Biggest Chinese New Year Parties
Published: June 2009
By Jenn Bain
Chinatowns from New York to Singapore are preparing to ring in the Year of the Ox.
Another New Year’s Eve party?
If you’re still recovering from December 31, there’s no need to worry about having to do it all over again. The Chinese New Year celebration for the Year of the Ox—which begins on January 26, 2009 (year 4707 on the Chinese calendar)—is more laid-back than the usual Dick Clark spectacle.
Of course, there are parades. No matter where the celebration, there will be a decorated dragon winding its way through crowds, streaming a trail of men behind it. You can also count on seeing a lion that ’eats’ lettuce and oranges from local merchants, who give the lion red envelopes filled with money (in hopes of a prosperous year).
But mostly, Chinese New Year is a time to enjoy food with family and friends. Dumplings and pineapples are served for their likeness to certain Chinese currency, as are spring rolls that resemble gold bars. Whole fish and chickens represent abundance, and a sticky rice pudding cake is said to help people prosper.
“I equate it to Thanksgiving,” says Stephen Chen, President of Massachusetts-based Joyce Chen Foods (and the son of Joyce Chen, the first Asian chef to have a cooking show in the U.S.). Stephen recalls that his household was encouraged to stay up all night gambling into New Year’s Day. His mother explained that the longer you stay up, the longer your life will be.
So if New York is the city that never sleeps, its residents should have very long lives. One of them, Taipei-born Hsin Lin Lee, is celebrating her first Chinese New Year in the Big Apple, and she’s excited. An assistant TV producer, Lee explains that President-elect Obama was born in the year of the Ox—fitting, as the pronunciation of the Chinese character for ox sounds like the Chinese word for change.
To join in the festivities, Lee has three Chinatowns to choose from: Flushing, Queens; Sunset Park, Brooklyn; and Manhattan (America’s largest Chinatown). But Lee points out that American Chinatowns blend together people from many regions and countries, so traditions have been mixed together.
“It’s less like Chinatown, and more like Asiantown,” she says. “But it’s a good thing to see different cultures living together.”
Here’s where to celebrate that cultural melding:
New York: January 26, February 1. More than 400,000 fireworks will rain down over Manhattan’s Roosevelt Park on January 26, while a parade is slated for February 1. On that day, some 500,000 spectators will watch martial arts performances, traditional dancers from Mexico and Bolivia, and live bands playing from decorated floats—all while a continual burst of confetti poppers fills the streets with brightly colored paper. The parade in Flushing, Queens, brings together all of that borough’s East Asian groups, and Brooklyn’s 8th Avenue Chinatown hosts the most homegrown parade in New York, with the whole neighborhood taking to the streets in celebration.
Honolulu: January 23–24. A 150-foot dragon snakes its way through the “Night in Chinatown” parade, which features festival queens, dancing lions, and kung fu artists. The days prior host a bevy of events, including an all-day block party with holiday favorites like jai (vegetarian monk’s food), gin doi (Chinese doughnut), and gau (New Year pudding).
Singapore: January 30–31. Singapore hosts one of the world’s largest, most elaborate, and most colorful Chinese New Year festivities: the annual Chingay Parade Singapore. The streets along Marina Bay are festooned with red lanterns, and nightly dance, song, and martial arts performances lead up to the New Year countdown. With 3,800 performers painted and preened with gold headdresses and silk costumes, mechanical dragon floats, a puppet parade, and an LED display, this celebration is a modern interpretation of ancient Chinese traditions.
Hong Kong: January 26–28. The theme of Hong Kong’s New Year parade, sponsored by Cathay Pacific, is the “world’s happiest party.” New Year’s Day here takes on an international, carnival-like atmosphere, bringing together the Washington Redskins cheerleaders, a brass band from Russia, and stilt-wearing ballerinas from Spain. A fireworks show will launch over Victoria Harbour, and horseracing fans will head en masse to the Sha Tin racecourse for the popular first day of racing in the new year.
London: February 1. Some 300,000 people are expected in London’s Chinatown, Trafalgar Square, and Leicester Square for acrobatic performances, fireworks, and food stalls serving steamed dumplings and red bean cakes.
Sydney: February 1. Sydney’s Chinese New Year Twilight Parade features illuminated floats, along with 500 dancers, martial artists, and musicians, who make their way from City Hall to Chinatown. Fireworks will light up the nighttime sky over Cockle Bay. Then, on February 7 and 8 in Darling Harbour, 3,000 dragon-boat racers will entertain 200,000 visitors.