Chinatown is the Best Place to Celebrate the Chinese New Year!

by Rev. Norman Fong

February 4, 2019

norman fong

As a little kid, I remember my mom dressing me and my twin sister in Chinese clothes and buying us new shoes. I got a haircut right before the new year and everyone cleaned the apartment. My Aunties and Uncles helped cook too as we all squeezed together. The extended family ate all kinds of good food all together. Of course, we kids got so many red envelopes too! (This was back in the 1950’s – see picture). Chinese New Year has always been a BIG DEAL and I hope you will all celebrate it in a big way. Now that there are so many Chinese that don’t live near Chinatown (like my generation did), I hope people will come to Chinatown to see how it’s celebrated here.

kids in park 1950s

Today is the Chinese New Year Flower Fair in Chinatown and there are city blocks of flowers, fruit trees and fruit for sale in preparation for the Chinese New Year of the Pig on February 5, 2019. San Francisco Chinatown knows how to throw a party with the huge Chinese New Year Parade & Community Street Fair set for February 23 with beautiful lights on the floats and our community marching through Kearny Street. This year is the Year of the Pig so I expect to see a lot of the marchers dressed up with Pig costumes and beautiful floats with spectacular lights.

I remember making a huge pig or boar for the first time with people from my church for a float in the 1971 year of the pig parade. It was so fun. We used chicken wire to create the shape of a giant pig and then used strips of newspaper dipped in paper mache to cover the wire which took a lot of work. Of course, we painted the giant pig and added lights. Today, there are a lot more better floats designed by “professionals” with more sophisticated lighting. A lot of people go to Disneyland to watch the evening parade there, but I think our Chinatown Evening Parade is bigger and better!

chinese new year parade

Did you know that the Chinese New Year celebration in San Francisco first began in the mid-1800s, when many immigrants from China came to the U.S. looking for work. As the word of the Gold Rush in California spread, many Chinese immigrants decided to stay in San Francisco. This built up a large Chinese community in this city, forming the famous Chinatown district that is still very much alive today. When they planned their first full scale New Year's celebration here, they incorporated both Chinese and American traditions. They loved the idea of having a large, colorful parade, though that was not done in China at that time. Today, this celebration and parade is one of the largest in the world. Millions of people watch our parade now – live or on TV. There are more than 100 parade entries. These include participants marching down the street with flags, lanterns, and drums and several floats and of course the 28-foot-long Golden Dragon all lit up. It takes a team of more than 100 people to operate and move it through the streets of San Francisco. I did it once and it was heavy! Of course, a lot of people watch the finale where the Golden Dragon and “Flying Lions” dance to over a hundred thousand fire crackers!

chinese new year parade dragon

chinese new year parade

jest jammin street fair

ed lee

Our Street Fairs & the Parade are filled with so much great entertainment too! The Chinese Chamber of Commerce does a fantastic job hiring great entertainers who do magic, acrobatics, singers and of course, my band plays in the afternoon and people dance on the streets. I’ve had the honor to co-emcee the parade every year since 1991 and I can’t believe that there are people that live in the San Francisco Bay Area that have never come before!

Start off the Year of the Pig (Boar) appreciating and renewing your relationships with your family, friends and also Chinatown. Be proud! We have to care for the oldest Chinatown in America and we should support all those groups that will parade proudly through our community on Kearny Street. If you have never come before, I’d come on Saturday Feb. 23 which is both the day of the Street Fair & the evening parade… Bring your family or friends. Sun Neen Fai Lok! Sum Serng See Sing! Sun Tai Geen Hong!

Originally published in Sing Tao Daily on February 3, 2019

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