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 2014, the Chinese New Year (or “Lunar New Year") begins on January 31, the start of the Chinese Year of the Horse.
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 horse is said to be independent, well-liked, bright, energetic, upbeat, impatient, capable and showy. Some famous folks born in the Year of the Horse: Genghis Khan, Rembrandt, Chopin, Isaac Newton, Theodore Roosevelt, Ella Fitzgerald, Jackie Chan, Jerry Seinfeld, Sandra Day O'Connor, Oprah Winfrey and Paul McCartney. Find out which animal you are here.
CHINESE NEW YEAR FESTIVITIES IN SAN FRANCISCO AND THE BAY AREA:
Jan. 25, at 9 am-3 pm
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 folk dances, lunar new year stories for kids, and tai chi and swordplay demos.
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.
Jan. 25, at 10:30 am
The main entree is the Feb. 15 night-time New Year Parade, but this mini-parade appetizer has lion dancers, drummers, stilt walkers and giant puppets strolling down Grant Ave. to Washington St. There, city officials launch San Francisco's Lunar New Year festivities with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Starts at Grant Ave. & California St., San Francisco. Ceremony on stage on Washington St. below Grant Ave. Free.
Jan. 25, at 10 am-8 pm; Jan. 26, at 9 am-6 pm
Stock up on tangerines, oranges, fresh flowers, and candy for the new year, as folk dancers, opera singers, magicians and acrobats entertain.
On Grant Ave., from Clay to Broadway; and on Pacific Ave., Washington and Jackson streets from Kearny to Stockton. Free.
Chinese New Year Day
Time to welcome the Year of the Horse! 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 Day practices and superstitions and symbolic foods to cook and eat. .
Feb. 1, at 11 am–5 pm
Free admission in honor of the Year of the Horse. Enjoy a traditional lion dance, art-making and cultural performances, along with current exhibits about food and other subjects.
At the San Jose Museum of Art, 110 South Market St., San Jose 95113.
Feb. 6, at 6-10 pm
A lion dance presentation and workshop, a martial arts demo, a classic Chinese mask-changing performance, arts and crafts, tea, fortune cookies and a display of anatomical drawings of horses from the Academy’s archives.
At the California Academy of Sciences, 55 Music Concourse Drive, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco 94118. Ages 21+. Admission $10, 12.
Feb. 8, 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), San Francisco.
Feb. 8, from 11 am
Free activities (11 am-4 pm) are followed by an evening benefit (6-9:30 pm) that includes a reception, dance, taiko, vocal and other musical performances and a dessert bar.
At Oakland Asian Cultural Center, 388 9th St., Oakland 94607. Evening benefit tickets $20-100.