A Cultural Journal

    Chinese Lunar New Year Celebrations in San Francisco, Feb 2014

    Written by: Shahida JJ - Posted on: March 06, 2014 | Post your comment here Comments | 中国 (Chinese)

    Google Translation: اُردو | 中文

    Chinese Lunar New Year Celebrations in San Francisco, Feb 2014

    The Chinese New Year 4712, as based on the lunar calendar, began on January 31, 2014. It is the longest and most important celebration in the Chinese calendar. This is the Year of the Horse, the seventh of all the animals of the Chinese Zodiac. According to Gabrielle Wang, “horses are funny, popular, fearless and hard-working. … They are also confident, spirited, honest, sensitive and brave.”

    Why are animal names given in Chinese Zodiac?

    Answer is taken from a Children's story by Gabrielle Wang’s ‘Race for the Chinese Zodiac’, excerpts published on January 22, 2014, in the New York Times.

    Chinese Lunar New Year Celebrations in San Francisco, Feb 2014

    "A long time ago in ancient China, legend has it, the Jade Emperor, ruler of heaven and earth, held a great race between the animals. He declared that the first twelve animals to cross to the other side of the mighty river would have a year named after them and thereby be forever immortalized on the Chinese Zodiac. The animals lined up on the shore eager to begin. Some chose to race honestly. Others were more devious. Some helped their friends along the way, while others raced alone. Some were distracted, while some focused with all their might on winning. But thirteen animals raced for only twelve places on the Zodiac. Who would come first? And who would miss out?

    "And so the animals cross the water, each in its own way. Courageous Tiger has no trouble swimming and strikes out into the river “with his powerful paws.” Smaller creatures, however, must form alliances: “Charming Rat and Friendly Cat were very good friends. They did everything together. ‘Take us across on your back, Ox, and we will show you the way.’ Kind Ox agreed and they climbed on board.

    "Rat may be charming, but he’s ruthless, and in the middle of the river, he pushes poor Cat off Ox’s back. As the creatures make it to shore, the emperor names a year after them, in the order in which they arrive. But Rat’s cruelty means Cat is left out, and that is why, to this very day, cats have hated rats.

    "The legend of the zodiac is typical of children’s animal stories in that the animals are characterized as having distinct personalities that then determine their actions. What makes the zodiac different from many such stories, however, is that bad behavior — like Rat’s — isn’t penalized. Cat loses his place in the zodiac despite being the victim of Rat’s duplicity; the Jade Emperor does not intervene."

    So the Years were given these animal names: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig.

    Chinese New Year celebrations and the Parade in San Francisco

    Chinese Lunar New Year Celebrations in San Francisco, Feb 2014
    One of many dragons at the parade

    San Francisco was thronged with visitors from all over the world, especially the Chinese, to witness and partake of the festivities of the New Year Celebrations.

    In San Francisco, the Chinese New Year is celebrated for two weeks beginning January 31, with numerous events and activities: there were flower shows, music events, street fairs and the Miss Chinatown USA pageant; it all culminated with a spectacular parade, in which the newly crowned Miss Chinatown USA had her own float.

    The Parade, February 15, 2014

    Chinese Lunar New Year Celebrations in San Francisco, Feb 2014
    Lion Dance

    Named one of the top ten parades in the world by the International Festivals and Events Association (IFEA), the Southwest Airlines sponsored Chinese New Year Parade in San Francisco is one of the grandest night illuminated parades in the country.

    Started in the 1860’s by the Chinese in San Francisco as a means to educate the community about their culture, the Parade and Festival have grown to be the largest celebration of Asian culture outside of Asia.

    San Francisco’s two-week celebration of the Year of the Horse culminated with the Chinese New Year Parade on Saturday February 15, 2014, along with the Chinatown Community Street Fair.

    Chinese Lunar New Year Celebrations in San Francisco, Feb 2014
    Terracotta Warriors at the parade

    The parade started 5:15 p.m. at Second and Market streets downtown SFO and proceeded along Geary, Powell, Post and Kearny streets to Chinatown. It began with a performance by the Tat Wong Kung Fu Academy dressed as the ancient "Terra Cotta Warriors"; young men and women were dressed in costumes especially made in China; each weighed 8 kg and was identical to those worn by the Terra Cotta Warriors.

    Mayor of San Francisco Ed Lee lighted up 50,000 firecrackers at the parade’s onset, which descended into a protective steel cage.

    There were numerous dragons and in different colors and lengths, including a 150 ft one ridden by the San Francisco Police Department. Another 110 ft dragon was mounted by the Yau Kung Moon school, a southern Shaolin Kung Fu system based in San Francisco.

    Chinese Lunar New Year Celebrations in San Francisco, Feb 2014

    Several marching bands were featured. Over 100 groups participated in the parade, including high school marching bands, martial arts groups, stilt walkers, numerous lion dancers and Chinese acrobats, long dragons and snakes. Elaborate costumes and firecrackers.

    The evening's finale was the breathtaking luminous presence of the fiery red and gold 268 ft long Golden Dragon, an enormous puppet made in the small town of Foshan, China. It took a team of 100 men and women to carry the dragon. It is also considered an honor to be chosen for the grand finale.

    Chinese Lunar New Year Celebrations in San Francisco, Feb 2014
    The Golden Dragon

    An estimated one million people gathered to witness the annual Parade, and over 600 thousand firecrackers were used. Several days prior to the parade, two lanes of San Francisco Union Square main roads were closed and blocked traffic. Most of the Square was taken up by huge camera stands of different TV Networks to broadcast the parade live. Union Square underground 4 floor parking lot was closed for the duration of the parade.

    Saturday’s street fair continued on Sunday and featured demonstrations of traditional Chinese arts, folk dance and puppet shows.

    Miss Chinatown Pageant

    For over 50 years, young women from throughout the United States come to San Francisco to compete for prizes and scholarships in the annual Miss Chinatown USA Pageant. Who has the talent, the grace, and the intellect to become the Miss Chinatown USA?

    Since its inception in 1958, the Miss Chinatown USA events have been giving young Chinese women from across the USA the opportunity to win scholarships and become goodwill ambassadors for the Chinese community. The San Francisco Chinese Chamber of Commerce sponsors the Pageant and the winners receive cash prizes and various gifts.

    Chinese Lunar New Year Celebrations in San Francisco, Feb 2014
    Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco

    Miss Chinatown Qualifications requirements:

    - She must be a citizen or a permanent resident of the USA

    - Must be of Chinese ancestry, meaning father must be of Chinese descent

    - Must be single, never married, and never had a marriage annulled; she must also never have been a parent

    - Must be at least 17 years of age and not over 26 on the date of the pageant

    - She can be a former contestant of the Miss Chinatown USA Pageant, but not a title holder

    The 2014 Miss Chinatown USA pageant took place on February 8 at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco.

    12 contestants from all over the US took part and 17 year old High School student Karen Li of Houston, Texas took home the title along with winning the Miss Talent award.  Karen will be a freshman this fall at Harvard University.  She and her court will reign over the Chinese New Year festivities and were in the Chinese New Year parade. 

    Chinese Lunar New Year Celebrations in San Francisco, Feb 2014
    Karen Li, Miss China Town 2014

    Tremendous hard work, talent, cooperation, and months of organization and preparation involving thousands of people  and scores of organizations - and of course, costs - made the annual spectacular spectacle possible.

    Preparatory arrangements for the coming year- 2015 - the Year of the Goat have already begun!

    (The author's Zodiac sign is the FIRE DOG!)


    You may also like:

    From the Archives