The Lunar New Year (often referred to as Chinese New Year in the U.S.) is an annual 15-day festival occurring in late January or early February based on the traditional Chinese lunisolar calendar. It is one the most important festivals in Chinese culture as well as other East Asian countries, including Korea, Mongolia, and Vietnam. In 2019, the first day of the Lunar New Year (LNY) falls on Tuesday, February 5th, denoting the arrival of Year of the Pig. To read more about Lunar New Year and celebrations in Oakland, click here.
San Francisco Lunar New Year
This year, Lunar New Year is February 5, 2019. Lunar New Year in the Bay Area is typically associated with the San Francisco Chinese New Year Festival and Parade. An annual two week event, it was first held in 1858 along what are now Grant Avenue and Kearny Street. The parade began during the Gold Rush era, at a time when the Chinese immigrant community commonly faced discrimination and displacement. The Chinese New Year Parade is not a tradition from China, rather it emerged as a way to demystify Chinese culture to non-Chinese people. It therefore represents a unique amalgamation of Chinese and American culture.
“The Chinese New Year Parade in San Francisco was made up…it’s purely American like chop suey or the fortune cookie,” said David Lei, one of the parade’s early organizers.
During the early Cold War, the parade served as a public relations campaign to attract business and tourism, as well as an effort to put Chinese Americans in a positive light. While the parade came under the supervision of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce in 1958, and outgrew the streets of the ethnic enclave in 1970, the biggest changes to the parade took place in the 1980’s when the chamber started to woo sponsors and broadcast the parade on TV.
Between the last 150 years and today, San Francisco’s LNY festivities have become the oldest and largest such LNY celebration outside of Asia, the largest Asian cultural event in North America, and one of the largest night time illuminated parades in the U.S. It is comprised of 300 volunteers and a $1 million budget.
Ways You Can Celebrate
There are many opportunities to celebrate Lunar New Year this year:
Chinese New Year Flower Fair: “buy fresh flowers, plants, candies, and fruits at this open-air market in the heart of Chinatown on Saturday, February 2 from 10am – 8pm, and Sunday, February 3 from 9am – 6pm.” There will be performance from traditional Chinese magicians, acrobats, folk dancers and opera, as well as over 120 booths and concessions. To learn more about different events available, visit this webpage.
The 2019 San Francisco Chinese New Year Parade is on Saturday, February 23, starting at 5:15 pm at the corner of 2nd and Market Streets. It makes its way through Chinatown and ends at Jackson and Kearny Streets, usually ending around 8pm. To learn more about the parade, click here. SF Travel created a map so you can see the parade route and plan your visit.
The Community Street Fair is on the same weekend as the Grand Parade: Saturday, February 23 from 10am – 4:30pm, and Sunday, February 24 from 9am – 5pm. It will travel from Grant Avenue from California to Broadway; also on Washington, Jackson, and Pacific between Stockton and Kearny. It will feature “traditional dancing, drumming, acrobats, Chinese calligraphy, fortune telling, and lion dancing.”