Chinese New Year Celebrations in North America

This year, Saturday, February 14th, isn’t only Valentine’s Day but also the start of the Year of the Tiger, year 4708 of the Chinese lunar calendar. Chinese New Year is celebrated around the world in unique and varied ways, wherever a significant Chinese population has taken root. North America is no different; in fact, in the U.S. alone, people of Chinese extraction constitute the third largest immigrant group and the largest Asian ethnicity, numbering about 2.7 million according to the 2000 Census.

New Year’s traditions in China include scouring the house to sweep away ill fortune and make way for good luck. It’s a time to reconcile, be on one’s best behavior, and spend time with family, enjoying feasts of pig, duck, chicken, and sweets. Many overseas Chinese return home this time of year to enjoy the 15-day period of family togetherness. Children are often given “good luck money” in small red envelopes called lai-see and fireworks are ignited to scare off evil spirits.

Chinese New Year in North America is not a direct transplant of Chinese traditions; most celebrations are shortened and simplified in the New World. Parades have come to epitomize Chinese New Year in the New World–a blending of the symbols, colors, and spirit of Chinese lantern festivals with the very American ritual, the parade.

For a peek at five of North America’s exciting Chinese New Year celebrations, click through to the jump.

San Francisco
Boasting one of the oldest and largest Chinatowns in North America and one of the top ten parades in the world, San Francisco’s Chinese New Year festivities start this Saturday, 2/6 and include a flower show, a Miss Chinatown USA Pageant, and even a basketball jamboree. They culminate in the illuminated night parade on Saturday, 2/27, at which 100 men and women bring to life a 201-foot-long golden dragon.

New York
Centered around Manhattan’s Mott Street, New York’s 11th annual parade will be held Sunday, 2/21, and is expected to draw 5,000 participants, among them marching bands, dancers, and those accompanying the many colorful floats. The parade will conclude at Bayard Street with an outdoor cultural festival.

Seattle
Hing Hay Park will host Seattle’s festival Saturday, 2/13, from 11 to 4.

Activities include a costume party for kids, lion and dragon dances, cultural performances, and a scavenger hunt.

Washington, D.C.
D.C.’s parade on Sunday, 2/21 will feature lion and dragon dances and, at 3:45 pm, the lighting of a five-story high firecracker in D.C.’s Chinatown on H Street, NW, between 6th and 8th Streets. And, your very dear National Geographic Society offers up its own festival

this Saturday, 2/6, from 11-3. It includes free food, film screenings, table tennis and martial arts demonstrations, and chances to win free passes to see the Terra Cotta Warriors.

Vancouver
The only Canadian city in our North American rundown, Vancouver’s 36th annual parade on Saturday, 2/14, will be scaled back this year due to the Olympics, starting two just days before. The parade will begin earlier and its route will be curtailed to accommodate the Games. After the parade, however, the celebration will continue at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden.

Finally, we couldn’t let all this talk of celebrating the Year of the Tiger by without plugging David Braun’s piece on tiger conservation on Nat Geo News.

Tell us about the Chinese New Year Celebration near you
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Photo: stuzehner