Places Outside of Asia That Go All Out for Lunar New Year
Unlike in the West, where each year begins precisely on the first of January, the date of the Lunar New Year that’s observed in China and many Asian countries varies each year. As its name suggests, the Lunar New Year is governed by the lunisolar calendar, and occurs at sunset on the day of the second new moon after the winter solstice. This means the new year can begin anytime from January 21 to February 21.
Each new year corresponds with an animal in the 12-year cycle of the Chinese zodiac, and each year also includes one of the five elements: metal, water, wood, fire, and earth. On February 1, 2022, we will enter the Year of the Water Tiger. The Lunar New Year (also known as the Spring Festival) is celebrated for two weeks, culminating in the Lantern Festival. Across Asia, millions of people travel home to celebrate the new year with their families. This journey, called chunyun, is the largest human migration on the planet. In all, more than one-sixth of the world's population celebrates Lunar New Year, gathering for parades and celebrations to honor the occasion. Here are six places outside of Asia to check out for the holiday.
San Francisco, California
Home to the oldest Chinese community in North America and the largest Chinese community outside of Asia, San Francisco celebrates the Lunar New Year in a big way. Immigrants added Western-style parades to their celebrations in the 1800s, and the tradition spread back to China. Today more than 3 million people observe the Chinatown parade. One of the largest in the world, it features more than 100 entries with drums, acrobats, floats, and a giant Golden Dragon. The dragon is so large that it requires more than 100 operators to navigate the 28-foot float from the starting point at Second and Market Streets to the culmination at Jackson and Kearny Streets. In addition to the Grand Parade, there are fireworks, a 5K and 10K run, a Miss Chinatown beauty pageant, and a community street fair with fortune-telling, calligraphy, and lion dancing.
A Cantonese man named John Shying was the first Chinese settler to arrive in Australia in 1818. Today the country is home to a robust population of citizens with roots in China, Vietnam, and elsewhere in Asia. In Sydney, the Chinatown and Haymarket area is a vibrant immigrant enclave, and features an 800-plus-seat dim sum restaurant and many markets, shops, and monuments. For the Lunar New Year, the nearby Circular Quay neighborhood will have 12 enormous lanterns, each with an animal from the Chinese zodiac. While the hugely popular Twilight Parade is on hold for 2022 due to light rail construction, the city will be alive with dragon boat races, drumming, lion dances, pop up markets, and fireworks to usher in the new year. The famous Sydney Harbour Bridge will also light up in an auspicious shade of red to mark the occasion.
Everything is big in the Lone Star State — including celebrations for the Lunar New Year. Houston, America’s fourth-largest city, has one of the largest Asian populations in the country; in particular, many South Vietnamese refugees settled in the region following the Vietnam War. They will celebrate Tết (the Vietnamese word for Lunar New Year) along with others in the Asian communities with a multitude of festivities across the sprawling city. Some of the highlights include music, lion dances, puppet shows, lanterns, drumming, cooking demonstrations, dancing, and other cultural displays.
Canada saw its first Chinese immigrants in 1788, when 50 workers were brought to British Columbia to operate a trading post. Vancouver, British Columbia’s largest city, largely established its Chinatown community after the discovery of gold in the province in 1858. It now boasts one of the largest Chinatowns in the world. The city’s Chinese New Year Parade dates back nearly 50 years, delighting spectators with more than 70 entries and 3,000 participants. The parade route passes under the ornate Millennium Gate, and the festivities include marching bands, dancers, acrobats, lion dances, fireworks, and more.
The oldest Chinese community in Paris dates to the early 1900s and is centered in Le Marais, covering just a few blocks along Rue au Maire and Rue Volta. The area hosts a weeklong Lunar New Year festival that includes calligraphy, martial arts demonstrations, and craft workshops — capped off by a small but traditional parade. In the Quartier Asiatique (13th Arrondissement), though, you’ll find the city’s biggest celebration, with 2,000 participants and almost a quarter of a million spectators reveling. The parade begins at the Tang Frères Asian supermarket and continues to Place d’Italie. The neighborhood of Belleville also boasts a large parade, with many dancers, martial artists, and acrobats.
New York, New York
While Asian immigrants are spread out all over New York’s five boroughs, Lower Manhattan’s Chinatown is still the epicenter for Lunar New Year festivities. The annual parade draws thousands of spectators, who crowd the route that begins at Mott Street (which is lined with lanterns) and Canal Street and winds its way to Sara D. Roosevelt Park. Lion dance troupes, kung-fu masters, and fireworks are all part of the parade and the weeks-long celebration that surrounds it. Similarly spectacular Lunar New Year events take place in New York’s other Chinatowns in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, and Flushing, Queens.