Many of us rang in 2019 weeks ago, already made and broke our resolutions for the year. But according to the lunisolar calendar, it’s still 4716, or 2018 in Gregorian terms.
Chinese New Year, aka Lunar New Year or Spring Festival, traditionally entails a 15-day celebration starting with the new moon in late January or February and ending with the following full moon. It’s all about spending time with loved ones over auspicious meals, spring cleaning and decorating, holiday shopping, and little red envelopes filled with “lucky money.” Plus lots and lots of firecrackers on Chinese New Year’s Eve — and maybe even some pyrotechnics.
These traditions have made their way around the globe, meaning exciting festivities throughout the month of February from the west coast of Canada to Southeast Asia. Wherever you are on February 5 to welcome the Year of the Pig, put on something red for luck and party like it’s 4717.
1. San Francisco, United States
Chinese New Year celebrations in San Francisco began not long after the California Gold Rush frenzy, which attracted its fair share of Chinese immigrants, fizzled out. More than 150 years later, the festivities are a highlight of the city’s social calendar. The biggest annual event is the Southwest Airlines Chinese New Year Parade, scheduled for February 23 this year. It’s a riot of bright costumes and showy floats, dragons, drummers, stilt walkers, martial artists, and spellbound spectators that kicks off at Second and Market, wraps around Union Square, and ends in Chinatown. Keep an eye out for Gum Lung, a 288-foot-long dragon that requires a hefty crew to snake it through the streets of SF while firecrackers explode all around.
The parade’s not all the city does to celebrate, though. There’s also a flower market, community fair, and Miss Chinatown USA pageant followed by a coronation ball on February 22. The newly crowned winner will attend the parade the next day. Things don’t officially wrap up until March 3 with the Chinese New Year Walk/5K/10K Run, whose proceeds will go to the Chinatown YMCA Community Center. For a complete list of the events on offer, check out the calendar on the website. But however you celebrate, don’t leave the city before getting dim sum.
2. Sydney, Australia
Add the Sydney Harbour to any celebration, and it instantly improves. The city makes good use of its standout water feature during the annual Lunar New Year Festival, which, this year, is an 80-event extravaganza on February 1-10. One of the most exciting events is the dragon boat regatta, attended by thousands of racers and as many spectators. Come out to Darling Harbour on February 9 to watch boats ornamented with dragon heads and colorful scales tear through the water, powered by as many as 20 paddlers, while beating drums sound from land.
Or download this app and take a self-guided tour of the Lunar Lanterns display — a series of massive, modern lanterns depicting the 12 animals of the zodiac lining Circular Quay — from the pig lantern at the Sydney Opera House over to The Rocks. The epic festival also has events like pop-up dumpling feasts in Chinatown and Haymarket, night markets, LED lion and dragon dances, orchestra performances, and calligraphy demonstrations. To see all the events on offer, check out the website.
3. London, England
London’s Chinatown is walking distance from attractions like Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, and Hyde Park. By the time February 10 rolls around, however, you’ll want to stick around Chinatown for the Chinese New Year party. Buckle up for lion dances, acrobatics, interactive stage shows, firecrackers, and parade-trailing through Chinatown and the West End. The West End also happens to be the best place for families and anyone who wants to see a Shaolin kung fu performance. For more stage shows and general fun, try Trafalgar Square, but head back to Chinatown when you get hungry. Check out the website for a complete list of this year’s events.
Singapore milks Spring Festival for as many days of holiday cheer as it can. Lanterns went up in Chinatown as early as January 20 in anticipation of Chinese New Year, and they’ll stay up until March 6 — get a good look from New Bridge Road, Garden Bridge, or Eu Tong Sen Street. But like any NYE reveler will attest, celebrating the new year is more about the night before than the morning after, and Singapore puts on a killer Chinese New Year’s Eve. Those lucky enough to participate can follow confetti-filled processions through Chinatown, gaze at festive market stalls, and catch song and dance shows at Kreta Ayer Square.
Up to February 10, the River Hongbao event at NS Square promises constant entertainment, be it with an opera performance, fireworks over the marina, carnival games, or good food. To close out the festivities, the complementary Chingay Parade, one of the largest celebrations in Singapore, will pass through Chinatown on February 17. Take a closer look at the full events schedule here.
5. Vancouver, Canada
For nearly 50 years, Vancouver has hosted the Chinatown Spring Festival Parade to welcome the new year with gusto. The parade starts at Millennium Gate around 11:00 AM and lasts roughly two and a half hours, traversing almost a mile start to finish. Marching bands set the tempo while costumed dancers and martial artists entertain the crowds. Other ways to celebrate this month include visiting the Chinese New Year Flower and Gift Fair at the Aberdeen Centre, checking out a lantern display (or learning how to make one) at the Metropolis at Metrotown mall, or doing a Chinese-fusion dinner cruise on the harbor. For a list of all the events on offer, check out the website.
For something different, simulate a trip to China with the Flight of the Dragon ride at FlyOver Canada in Canada Place. The ride is adding a limited-time Chinese New Year-themed pre-show and dragon-guided flight experience over China’s greatest hits, including the Great Wall of China and Zhangjiajie peaks, before embarking on the usual trip across Canada. Riders are suspended in the air while panoramic footage plays, and special effects help sell the illusion of soaring. It’s more than worth 30 bucks and 25 minutes of your time.
6. Dubai, United Arab Emirates
The highlight of Chinese New Year in Dubai is the fireworks extravaganza on Chinese New Year’s Eve, a spectacle of red and gold fireworks raining down over Dubai Creek. Boardwalk is the best place to take in the show, one of several free ways to enjoy the holiday. There are also puppet shows, parades, mahjong games, workshops, and more at the Dubai Mall until February 10 and the Chinese Lantern Festival is on February 16. Or maybe seeing the Burj Khalifa dressed up in lights is enough to blow you away. On the off chance you’re in the mood to splurge, rack up a celebratory bill at the Chinese New Year-themed dinner event at Hakkasan, a splashy restaurant in Atlantis, The Palm specializing in Cantonese cuisine.
7. Hong Kong
Whether or not to visit China during Spring Festival is a polarizing topic on travel forums. Much like Thanksgiving or Christmas, Chinese New Year is all about holing up with family, leaving famously busy cities unusually dead as people head home for the holidays and local shops close up. There’s still plenty of celebratory action in cities like Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, but none of them goes bigger than Hong Kong.
Daytime is a flurry of street food feasts, trips to temples, and flower market jaunts with events like a well-wishing festival and temple fair thrown in. But the pièce de résistance is the International New Year Night Parade, this year on February 5 from 8:00 PM with pre-parade activities starting at 6:00 PM. Attendees will be treated to a procession of colorful, elaborate floats and performances ranging from acrobatics to magic to several types of dance on the streets of Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon. And if that isn’t enough, there will be a massive fireworks show over Victoria Harbour the next night.
To check out all the Chinese New Year events on offer this year in Hong Kong, visit the website.