This past Monday marked the beginning of the 4,720th Chinese New Year or Lunar New Year: the year of the dragon. The dragon is the most powerful sign of the Chinese zodiac, so it is an auspicious year. Celebrations traditionally last for 15 days, and Union Square makes a wonderful backdrop for some of the festivities here in San Francisco, including the famous Chinese New Year Parade, which will happen on Saturday February 11th at 5:15. The San Francisco tradition is the largest parade of its kind outside of Asia with over 100 dazzling floats, feisty dancing lions, firecrackers, marching bands and acrobats. We’ll also be hosting Verizon’s Lunar New Year celebration this weekend with performances by Michelle Martinez, Clara C, Passion, and ANAK. More info is available here. Being that we host these fabulous events and are neighbors to the largest China Town district in the U.S., we thought we’d take this opportunity to share with you a little background on the Lunar New Year traditions and history.
According to legend Lunar New Year traditions began with a battle against a mythical beast called Nian. Apparently, the beast would eat livestock, farm crops and sometimes even children on the first day of the New Year. The people began to leave food on their doorsteps in hopes of satiating the monster’s desires. Then, a revelation came when one of the villagers saw that Nian was frightened by a small child wearing red. The villagers began to hang red lanterns and scrolls and light firecrackers every New Year to frighten away the beast, after which he stopped terrorizing them. In the legend, Nian is eventually captured by a monk named Hongjun Laozu and subdued.
Customs and Traditions
Throughout the world and even within China traditions and customs vary widely. The Lunar New Year is celebrated in countries all over Asia as well as in Asian communities around the world, including, of course, San Francisco. In all these places, people decorate their abodes, feast and buy gifts for one another to welcome in the New Year. Traditionally, families must carefully clean out their homes to sweep away any bad fortune and make way for a new year of good luck. People often adorn their windows and doors with scrolls of spring couplets. These short poems vary from place to place, but always include a positive message for the New Year such as wishes for health or wealth or happiness. Money is given in even number sums to younger people in red envelopes meant for good luck and to ward off evil. The eve of the Lunar New Year is usually a family feast with delicacies such as roasted pig or duck and foods that symbolize longevity and wealth such as citrus, dumplings and noodles. On the morning of the New Year families forget all grudges and wish one another a healthy and happy New Year. Fireworks are also a big part of any celebration and are used to ward off evil spirits. The 15th day of the New Year is the last day of festivities and is the day of the Lantern Festival in which families display brightly colored lanterns and light candles to guide wayward spirits home.
During the 15 days of Lunar New Year there are festivities all over San Francisco, but the coup de grace is really the Chinese New Year Parade which passes right through our neighborhood from Market to Geary to Powell to Post Streets. We’ve adorned the Square with colorful Chinese lanterns to make way for this grand event. In addition to the iconic dancing lions and marching bands, the San Francisco parade will include martial arts groups, stilt walkers and the newly crowned Miss Chinatown USA, as well as a 201 foot long “Golden Dragon” at the end of the parade. It will be accompanied by 600,000 firecrackers. This special dragon was made in Foshan by a prestigious company of costume crafters and is outfitted with rainbow colored pompons, bright lights, silver rivets and white rabbit fur. It takes a team of 100 people to carry and animate it. We hope to see you there as you begin a new Lunar Year by casting off all your negative thoughts and feelings and welcoming good fortune and happiness.