Chinese New Year, Spring Festival, Tet, Seollal...call it what you will, Lunar New Year is one of the biggest holidays in the world - and has some of the most spectacular celebrations to get in on! This special occasion marks the beginning of a new year on the traditional Chinese lunisolar calendar, and is a time for honoring ancestors, spending time with family and trying to earn some coveted good luck for the next twelve months.
With Asian communities found all over the world, celebrations aren’t just confined to Asia; Chinese New Year is celebrated in style globally, with lavish parades and other festivities in every major city you can think of. If you’re in the U.S., you’re in luck - this is home to some of the best and most grandiose parades you’ll find anywhere outside of Asia. Here are a few of the best American cities to experience Lunar New Year celebrations this year.
Launched in 1860, this is the undisputed granddaddy of Chinese New Year celebrations in North America. Started by San Francisco’s Chinese immigrant community after the California Gold Rush, the parade has grown so big that some estimates actually rank it as the largest of its kind in the entire world. With a month-long lineup of events, including a flower market, community fair, basketball tournament, and Miss Chinatown beauty pageant, there’s also tons of things to check out before and after the main parade event.
San Francisco might have the oldest Lunar New Year festival in America, but New York City has the most. With five boroughs (and an incredible nine Chinatowns!) to choose from, you’re spoiled for choice when it comes to parades, festivals and fairs. Manhattan boasts the legendary Chinatown parade as well as a Firecracker Ceremony & Cultural Festival; Queens has a New Year Temple Bazaar and its own parade; and over in Brooklyn, a Chinese New Year festival and parade is held in Sunset Park. So many parties and so little time...but that’s hardly surprising for a city that never sleeps.
Home to many Vietnamese-Americans, New Orleans is probably the best American city to get a taste of Vietnamese New Year, known as Tết Nguyên Đán. Tet, as it’s more simply referred to stateside, celebrates the New Lunar Year with many of the same traditions as the Chinese, including cleaning homes, preparing traditional food and giving money to relatives in red envelopes. Every year, New Orleans hosts Tet Fest, a free festival for the city’s Vietnamese community where you’ll find Vietnamese food, fireworks, live performances, and traditional lion and dragon dances.
The Windy City is home to the second-oldest Chinatown in America, and with those roots come some serious Chinese New Year entertainment. A slew of cultural events including the Chinese New Year Concert at the Chicago Symphony Centre, a special exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago, and a lantern procession through iconic Millennium Park, will keep you immersed in New Years frivolities, as well as not one, but two Chinese New Year’s parades. Even the city’s sports teams get in on the fun; Chicago’s famed basketball (go Bulls!) and hockey (go Blackhawks!) teams hold lion and dragon dances during games over the holiday.
Get off the mainland and out to idyllic Hawaii for a truly unique Lunar New Year experience. Home to one of America’s largest Chinese communities, as well as sizeable populations of Filipinos, Japanese and Koreans, every year Honolulu’s Chinese New Year Celebration paints the town redder than a hongbao. Several festivals and parades pay respects to Hawaii’s Chinese community, which has roots dating back to the 18th century, and has shaped much of this island state’s local way of life.
If you’re keen to sample some of the amazing traditional foods prepared for Lunar New Year, Seattle is your best budget-friendly bet. As part of the city’s annual Lunar New Year Celebration, a $3 Asian Food Walk allows festive foodies to taste and delight in various Asian cuisines, from egg waffles, dumplings, rice cakes - even decidedly non-traditional bubble tea can be found here! Beyond the food stalls, there’s also a lineup of entertainment to reflect various Asian cultures, like Hawaiian hula dancing, traditional Korean performance, Japanese taiko drums, Hmong dance performances, and of course, lion and dragon dancing.
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