Chinese New Year, the biggest holiday of the year for most Chinese throughout the world, is traditionally family-oriented—the time for family members to reunite at home and over-eat symbolic foods, much like Thanksgiving in the US. In the San Francisco Bay Area, the celebration of Chinese New Year is stretched over a few weeks, with fairs, beauty queens, bazaars, lion dances and deafening firecrackers in Chinatown, and museums and other institutions hosting special activities as well. All of it culminates in the San Francisco Chinatown Chinese New Year Parade, a night-time spectacle with a feisty 270-foot-long dragon.
When is Chinese New Year?
Chinese New Year is based on a lunar calendar (according to phases of the moon), so its corresponding date on the Western calendar varies from year to year. In 2013, the Chinese New Year (or “Lunar New Year") begins on February 10, the start of the Chinese Year of the Snake.
The Chinese Zodiac
Twelve animals comprise the Chinese zodiac, and people are believed to have characteristics matching the animal of the year in which they were born. The snake is said to be confident, vain, private, analytical, materialistic, charming, sympathetic and self-reliant. Some famous folks born in the Year of the Snake: Elizabeth I, Mahatma Gandhi, John F. Kennedy, Jr., Charles Darwin, Abraham Lincoln, Anne Frank, James Joyce, Pablo Picasso, Marlon Brando, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Dick Cheney. Find out which animal you are here.
CHINESE NEW YEAR FESTIVITIES IN SAN FRANCISCO AND THE BAY AREA:
Feb. 7, at 6-10 pm
Lion dances, martial arts demos, arts and crafts, tea and dim sum, DJ music, a huge version of the video game Snake, and of course the Academy’s live snakes with their handlers.
At the California Academy of Sciences, 55 Music Concourse Drive, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. 94118. Ages 21+. Admission $10, 12.
Feb. 9, at 11 am–5 pm
Free admission in honor of the Year of the Snake. Enjoy a traditional lion dance, live music, art-making and cultural performances, and see the exhibit Rising Dragon: Contemporary Chinese Photography.
San Jose Museum of Art, 110 South Market St., San Jose.
Feb. 9 & 10, at 10 am-5 pm
Take a lunar zodiac personality quiz to find out which animal you are (or ought to be) and decorate lion dance masks. Magic shows at 1 and 3 pm both days.
At Playland-Not-at-the-Beach, 10979 San Pablo Ave., El Cerrito 94530. Admission $10, 15.
Chinese New Year Day
Time to welcome the Year of the Snake! By now, the home should be sparkling clean, the cooking done and all bills and debts paid. Wear new clothes, preferably in good-luck-color red. Don't argue, and don’t use knives or sharp objects. Parents and other adults give children hong bao, red envelopes with money inside. Read about other Chinese New Year practices and superstitions here.
Feb. 16, at 10 am-4 pm
Middle-school-aged boys and girls play in six games in one day.
At Betty Ann Ong Chinese Recreation Center, 1199 Mason St. (at Washington).
Feb. 16, at 7:30 pm
Young women from across the country compete for prizes and scholarships in the annual pageant. The winners serve as goodwill ambassadors for the Chinese community during the new year.
At Palace of Fine Arts Theatre, 3301 Lyon St. Tickets $35, 45, 65.
Feb. 16, at 11 am-3 pm; Feb. 17, at 9-11:30 am
The new year coincides with the peak blooming of magnolias, and the botanical garden has one of the world’s prime collections of Asian magnolias. Take in the floral explosion, plus lion and dragon dances, Chinese and Asian folk dances, new year stories for kids, and tai chi demos and mini-lessons.
At San Francisco Botanical Garden, 9th Ave at Lincoln Way, Golden Gate Park. Admission: Free with proof of San Francisco residence; free-$7 for non-residents.
Feb. 17, at 8 am
See Chinatown, North Beach and the Financial District on this 10K run/walk that benefits the Y's youth and teen programs. (A 5k option is also available). Prizes given to the fastest finishers in various categories, the best dressed snake and some random runners.
Starts at Grant Ave. and Sacramento St.; finishes on Kearny St. between California and Sacramento. Registration fee $33, 39; includes T-shirt and finish-line goodies.