San Francisco Annual Events

Chinese New Year Festival and Parade

Chinese New Year Parade

The most important holiday on the Chinese calendar, Chinese New Year is celebrated around the world with parades, dancing, concerts, firecrackers and a long list of deep-rooted traditions meant to purge the old and embrace the new. While the Chinese adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1912, making January 1 the actual start of the new year, The Chinese New Year celebrations are celebrated based on the Lunar Calendar. The first day of the celebration changes every year and occurs on the day of the new moon, which occurs between January 21 and February 20. The celebrations have evolved over time, but the origin of the holiday can be traced back to almost 3,500 years ago during the Shang Dynasty, which took place from 1600 to 1046 BC. It wasn’t until the Wei-Qing Dynasty, which began in 220 AD that the festivities went from mainly religious to more entertaining and pageantry. 

The reason for the creation of this annual event is based on an ancient myth, similar to a lot of festivals and celebrations in China. There are a lot of different versions of the story, however the most commonly accepted one has to do with a mythical beast called Nian. This creature was said to go out on the eve of the new year and wreak havoc by eating crops, animals and livestock and even people. The Chinese ended up placing food outside of their doors in hopes that the angray beast would take pity on them, accept the offering and not damage their livelihoods and kill their family members. This was practiced until an old wise man was tired of doing the offerings and firgured out that Nian was afraid of loud noises and the color red. This is why people throw firecrackers and hang red lanterns at modern day celebrations. Although these are just stories passed down through the ages, the Chinese have kept these traditions going and integrated them into the massive celebrations that are meant to help cleanse all of the bad or negative things from the previous year and start fresh. 

Chinese New Year Parade Float
Chinese New Year Parade Float


While the biggest celebrations happen in China, with Shanghai being the epicenter of the festivities, there are also large celebrations in Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Paris and London as well as San Francisco, where organizers claim to hold the largest Chinese New Year Celebration outside of China. It is considered one of the top ten parades in the world and is actually one of the only illuminated night parades in the United States. The history of the parade dates back to the 1860s, when the small Chinese population in San Francisco, most who came to the city during the Gold Rush, decided to pay homage to their native country with a parade. In fact, nothing like this had really existed in China. There were celebrations, however the parade was more of an American tradition. It was a smaller event when it began, but over the years grew to one of the largest Chinese New Year celebrations in the world. The parade is estimated to attract over 3 million spectators every year between people watching in Chinatown and viewing the festivities on television. 

Miss Chinatown
Miss Chinatown at San Francisco Chinese New Year Parade


The Chinese New Year Parade and Festival is more than just a parade. The parade is definitely the biggest part of the celebration, with more than 100 groups represented, a bunch of large floats and the iconic Golden Dragon, which is 28 feet long and takes over 100 people to operate. Other parts of the festival include the Flower Market Fair, The Basketball Jamoboree, Miss Chinatown USA Pageant, The Community Street Fair and The Chinatown YMCA Run. 


Golden Dragon
Golden Dragon at Chinese New Year Parade


If you want to see a spectacular display of asian culture, beautifully-designed floats, Chinese Dancers and more, the Chinese New Year Parade is an amazing annual event in San Francisco to see at least once. Since the date and schedule changes every year, check out the official website for the updated information to make sure you don’t miss anything. If you wish to attend the festival and wish people a “Happy New Year”, then you can use the Cantonese phrase “Gung Hay Fat Choy”, which means “wishing you great happiness and prosperity” or the Mandarin phrase “Gong Xi Fa Cai”, which translates to “wishing you to be prosperous in the coming year”.

Chinese New Year San Francisco
Chinese New Year Festival San Francisco


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