January 24, 2020
Usher in the Year of the Rat with our guide to the best Chinese New Year festivities in our United States destinations
Are you ready to welcome the Year of the Rat this Saturday? Lunar New Year celebrations will be taking place all over the world, so you don’t need to head east to get in on the action. Thousands of communities across the globe honour Chinese New Year, including 4.9 million people of Chinese origin in the United States, who celebrate with gusto from coast to coast. Here’s our pick of the best events in some of the cities we fly to.
The Chinese New Year festivities in San Francisco are the largest of their kind outside Asia. Here, the main celebrations take place at the end of the 15-day new year season, with a Chinese New Year Parade on Saturday 8th February – one of the last illuminated night parades in the US – and the Chinatown Community Street Fair which spans the whole weekend. The parade kicks off at 5.15pm from 2nd and Market Streets and is free to attend as a general spectator (seats in the stands require tickets). It then proceeds around Union Square towards the end point of Kearny Street and Columbus Avenue, with excellent viewing opportunities along the whole route. Expect to see more than 100 floats decked out in dazzling colours, along with elaborately dressed marching bands, lion dancers, street performers and food vendors, plus a mammoth 288-foot Golden Dragon carried by 180 members of a local martial arts group.
More Chinese cultural arts are on offer at the Community Street Fair, where more than 500,000 people come to see acrobats, folk dancers, opera singers and magic acts perform on the main stage, while dozens of booths provide tasty treats, Chinese-inspired shopping and the chance to have your photo taken with a variety of giant puppets.
Elsewhere in town, the Asian Art Museum embraces the Year of the Rat on Sunday 9th February with a celebratory, family-friendly programme of art workshops, storytelling, dancing and other activities, including the chance to have your name written in Chinese calligraphy. Entry is free for children aged 12 and under.
Over on the other side of the country, the Lunar New Year is ushered in with fervour in the nation’s capital Washington DC. Many events take place at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, including a magnificent display of 100 wintern lanterns at The REACH; a new extension to the Kennedy Center that opened in September last year. The show runs until 2nd February and features other cultural activities alongside the lanterns, including sugar painting, live performances and music from the Shanghai Chinese Orchestra.
Promising to be the best and biggest event in its history, DC’s Chinese New Year Parade takes place on Sunday 26 January. Starting from 6th and Eye St NW at 2pm, the parade culminates with a fireworks finale around 3.45pm, and is set to feature a host of quirky participants from fortune cookie tossers, clown cars and Kung Fu demonstrators to traditional lion and dragon dancers, and the Washington Wizards’ mascot G-WIZ. Get there early and enjoy a pre-parade meal at one of Chinatown’s many restaurants.
New York City’s celebrations encompass all five boroughs so wherever you’re based there’ll be something going on. Most visitors gravitate towards Chinatown in downtown Manhattan, but other, smaller Chinatowns are also worth checking out, most notably in Sunset Park, Brooklyn and the downtown section of Flushing in Queens.
In Manhattan, the signature events include the New Year Firecracker Ceremony & Cultural Festival, which kicks off at 11am on New Year’s Day, 25 January, in Sara D. Roosevelt Park on the Lower East Side (Grand St subway), and the boisterous Lunar New Year Parade & Festival on the 9th February, which cuts a path through Chinatown and Little Italy, starting at Mott and Canal Streets at 1pm. If you’re with kids, another option is the Lunar New Year and Family Festival at the China Institute in the Financial District, sandwiched between the two main events on Sunday 2nd February. Along with paper lantern and dumpling making workshops, there’s lion dancing, Chinese puppet shows, and interactive storytelling sessions for both toddlers and older kids.
More highbrow pursuits are on offer at the Met Museum on the Upper East Side, with a one-night-only Lunar New Year dragon dance performance on the 3rd February, and the just-opened Celebrating the Year of the Rat exhibition featuring rodent-themed artworks and sculptures.
Back west in Las Vegas, the two-day, 9th annual Chinese New Year in the Desert festival bursts into life this coming weekend, with Forbes magazine calling it one of the ‘top 8 places in the United States to celebrate Chinese New Year’. Since its early downtown days at the Fremont Street Experience, the event has experienced rapid growth and expanded to other parts of the city, with The Grand Canal Shoppes, Downtown Las Vegas Arts District and dim sum restaurant Ping Pang Pong among the latest venues.
Festival highlights this year include an energetic Lunar New Year Parade along Main Street in Downtown Las Vegas, led by National Hockey League ice hockey team, the Vegas Golden Knights. Get there early for a piece of the action: proceedings kick off at 9.30am and last approximately one hour. If that’s a little too early (this is Vegas, after all) there’ll be plenty going at the post-parade party in the Arts District afterwards, including crane origami workshops, Chinese music performances and a youth hockey clinic by the Vegas Golden Knights. There’s more traditional dancing and a ‘dotting of the lion’s eyes’ ceremony at the Grand Canal Shoppes, before an 8-course, family-style finale dinner on Sunday night at Ping Pang Pong in the Gold Coast Hotel.
Elsewhere in town, you can soak up more Year of the Rat atmosphere at Wynn Las Vegas, MGM Grand, the Bellagio Conservatory & Botanical Gardens, and The Forum Shops inside Caesars Palace, all of which feature stunning displays ranging from lantern shows and 45-foot-long silk dragons to immaculately shaped botanical creations made from flowers and plants.
Chinatown is one of Los Angeles‘ most visited destinations in its own right, and it really goes to town when Lunar New Year approaches. The long-running (121 years!) Golden Dragon Parade & Chinese New Year Festival is the flagship event, and sees North Broadway explode in a riot of red and gold, with food trucks, a craft beer garden and martial arts demonstrations, as well as multiple marching bands and dozens of colourful floats. This year the event takes place on Saturday 1st February at 1pm and is expected to draw more than 100,000 spectators, so get there early for a good spot!
Meanwhile at the theme parks, the Year of the Rat is being conveniently rebranded as the Year of the Mouse at Disneyworld’s Disney California Adventure Park, where Mickey and Minnie are cashing in on the action with a month-long Lunar New Year celebration featuring photo ops, Mulan’s New Year Procession, and a nighttime lantern and water show. Events run daily until Sunday 9th February. There’s more to see and do at Universal Studios Hollywood, with Po and Tigress from Kung Fu Panda offering hungry fans the chance to sample tasty Asian dishes at Mr. Ping’s Noodle Shop. Wishing trees, cultural performances, and meet and greets with famous characters (think Hello Kitty and Minions) complete the line-up of activities, which also run until the 9th Feb.
For something more sedate, head to the magical Chinese gardens at the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, where the annual Chinese New Year Festival runs from 1st–2nd February. It’s easy to get to without a car – take the Metro Gold Line to the Sierra Madre Villa station in Pasadena, then pick up a free shuttle to the gardens – and offers a great opportunity to soak up some serenity while still enjoying all the traditional delights the Spring Festival has to offer. Highlights include traditional and contemporary Chinese dance and classical music, as well as brush painting, floral arts and calligraphy demonstrations.
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