The zenith of San Francisco’s Chinese New Year is its extensive parade, celebrated as the largest in the US.
The intangible dream of the “American Heaven” lured countless fearless Chinese immigrants to the shores of California’s “Gold Mountain” coast. They were the original globetrotters—the intrepid travelers who dared to explore new lands for a better life, a more glorious future. The team at Jetset Times yearned to channel the bold spirits of these travelers and to delve into one of the greatest celebrations of Chinese New Year and the Chinese culture.
The zenith of San Francisco’s Chinese New Year is its extensive parade, celebrated as the largest in the nation. Begun in the 1860’s, the parade has since then grown to epic proportions to include almost all of the members of the San Francisco Chinatown community.
After traversing through all of the day-offerings Chinatown boasted as part of the two-week celebration, we anxiously awaited the start of the parade. The evening was chilly, and the infamous unrelenting winds of the Bay roused strangers to huddle up and take refuge in body heat. Anticipation was thick in the atmosphere, and skittish children took to throwing “poppers,” convinced in their ability to incite the parade to begin. As the minutes passed, people grew restless, peering in both directions with impatience.
When the announcers exclaimed the start of the parade at last, the bleachers and streets bursting with spectators let out a deafening roar. We knew it was going to be worth the wait.
Brilliant multi-colored flags announced the commencement of the festivities, each hailing a different zodiac animal in its wake. When the flag of the Snake flashed past, a noticeable awe had descended upon the crowd. It had hit home that 2013 was the year of the Snake on the Chinese lunar calendar; and for those who knew the legend of the White Snake, it was a signaling of both the hope and the struggles of the oncoming year.
However, the heaviness in the air did not last long, as Chinese childhood fable characters floated past to greet the onlookers and the New Year. Local elementary school children, city T’aichi club members, and even war veterans all claimed a part in the parade, rejoicing in not only the opportunities of the future, but also the accomplishments of the past.
As the parade progressed, the spectators grew even more enchanted with the ceremonies. Shimmering contraptions that locals lovingly hand-built scooted by, magnificent effigies of divine kings glided along with mere humans, and Miss Chinatown, an angelic representation of the city’s ideals, was a vision as her oriental carriage delivered her through the street to her people.
But of course, the gem of the show was the exalted finale. The Chinese Lion Dance is a tradition present in all Chinese New Year parades. However, San Francisco’s was one of the most sumptuous and striking ones that we had ever seen. Thought to have originated from the legend of the defeat of the Nian, a sea-beast who terrorized villagers, the Chinese Lion Dance comprises of acrobats donned with ornate lion costumes. The large and grandiose “lion”—theoretically embodied by the villagers, scares the Nian away with its intimidating choreography. It spits out “fire”—firecrackers that are lit, and makes ruckus by banging drums.
The finale featured one grand dragon with countless smaller dragons, all played by the most talented acrobats Chinatown had to offer. With the enthused dancing of the dragons, the dramatic stunts of the acrobats, and the vociferous crackle of fireworks, the final act of the parade was electric. This dazzling display is not only a sight to behold, it is an experience to be had.
Article written by Wenxi Zhang.