Grace Lower | Aug 17, 2020
Starting on January 27, more than 1.4 billion people (yes, that’s billion with a “b”) will celebrate Chinese New Year. Sometimes called “Spring Festival” or “Lunar New Year”, Chinese New Year is observed over a two-week period, promising festivities, fireworks, and food.
This time is also a peak travel season for those who observe the holiday. This year alone, Chinese authorities predict that New Year’s gatherings will involve 2.5 billion trips by land, 365 million trips by rail, 58 million flights, and 43 million trips by boat or ferry.
Here in the United States, many families will be hosting their own Chinese New Year celebrations. To ring in 2017—the Year of the Rooster—participants will gather for a reunion dinner, light firecrackers, and exchange red envelopes filled with “lucky money.” But beyond family gatherings, the most prominent part of Chinese New Year is the series of lively parades hosted by local Chinese communities. These colorful events feature traditional “Lion Dances,” enormous dragon costumes, music, fireworks, and ornate floats. With many major U.S. cities hosting Chinese New Year celebrations, here are some of the best places to ring in the Year of the Rooster.
New York City is home to the largest Chinese-American population in the United States; as such, it features some of the country’s most beloved Chinese New Year festivities. New York’s Chinatown will host a parade through Canal Street, complete with fireworks and traditional dance performances. Revelers can then escape the crowds by visiting a local restaurant for hot tea and dim sum—many Chinatown restaurants offer New Year’s specials and exclusive menu options.
In addition to Chinatown’s celebrations, the China Institute in America will host an all-day event in early February. From workshops on storytelling and lantern-making to an evening dinner party with live music, there are activities open for guests of all ages. Locals and tourists alike are invited to participate and learn more about what makes Chinese culture so unique.
While many cities offer parades, Chicago’s celebrations place a greater emphasis on cultural activities. Each year, the Chicago Chinese Cultural Institute partners with local restaurants to host a dumpling-making dinner that promotes Chinese tradition and cuisine. For visitors with an interest in the arts, the Chinese Fine Arts Society has teamed up with the Art Institute of Chicago to highlight Chinese art with a mini-tour called “Fowl Friends” (in honor of the Year of the Rooster). Meanwhile, music lovers can attend performances by the China National Peking Opera Company and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. No matter where the festivities take them, most visitors won’t miss the 2017 Lunar New Year Parade, which draws nearly 30,000 guests annually.
San Francisco has a rich history of Chinese-American influence, and its Chinese New Year’s celebrations are some of the oldest in the country. In 1849, San Francisco roared to life with the California Gold Rush—among the thousands of gold-seekers who arrived, many were Chinese immigrants. By the 1860s, these Chinese workers were eager to establish traditions in their new country, and the Lunar New Year offered the ideal opportunity to showcase their culture. The Chinese workers invited a number of local groups to participate in an American-style parade and marched through the streets with colorful flags and banners.
Today, The Southwest Airlines Chinese New Year Parade continues to intrigue and delight spectators from around the globe. This year, the event is slated to take place on Saturday, February 11. Along with the usual floats, costumes, and fireworks, Miss Chinatown USA and her court will be helping to usher in the New Year. But the real star of the show is the ornate 268-foot Golden Dragon (“Gum Lung”). A dedicated team of more than 100 volunteers will carry this dragon throughout San Francisco. Keeping with the spirit of San Francisco's first New Year parade, event organizers invite a variety of community groups to take part in the celebration and welcome guests of all heritages to experience Chinese culture.
Our nation’s capital is a melting pot of cultures, but D.C.’s Chinese New Year Parade and Festival is a show-stopper. Among traditional festivities, the event features martial arts demonstrations and a blend of traditional and contemporary musical performances. Throughout DC’s Chinatown neighborhood, volunteers and artists will be leading calligraphy demonstrations, face painting, poetry reading, tai chi, children’s arts and crafts, and dance performances. The nearby Kennedy Center will also be hosting a Family Day in early February, with free admission and a number of interactive exhibitions. Visitors can learn how to create Chinese paper cuttings, apply traditional makeup, and master the basics of Chinese calligraphy. Throughout the month of February, a number of Chinese restaurants in the D.C. area will offer exclusive tasting menus to showcase traditional cuisine.
The beauty of travel is the ability to experience and appreciate the world’s diverse cultures. And in many cases, intercultural exchange isn’t too far from your own backyard. Community celebrations, like those on Chinese New Year, invite people from all backgrounds to explore a series of traditions unlike their own. While dragons, dancing, and Lucky Money may not be a part of most Americans’ New Year’s festivities, there’s something universal about celebrating new beginnings.
Grace Lower has a love for all things writing and travel. When she's not exploring new places, Grace enjoys teaching English as a Second Language, making terrible puns, and running incredibly long distances at incredibly slow speeds.