You can call it the Spring Festival, Lunar New Year, or Chinese New Year but they all refer to the same thing: one of the world’s biggest annual celebrations. In cities across the globe, colorful and joyous spectacles featuring parades, fireworks and cultural performance ring in the start of a new year according to the traditional Chinese lunar calendar. In 2016, Chinese New Year falls on Monday, February 8, but many places will host parades and festivals over the weekend, with some parties continuing through the end of the month. With their unique traditions and crowd-pleasing festivities, these celebrations stand out from the rest, so get ready to eat some dumplings for good luck and welcome the Year of the Rooster.
By Annie Bruce
The Chinese New Year celebration in the country’s capital is, of course, the most elaborate of all. The city hosts a series of Temple Fairs, each with different traditions and characteristics, as part of a tradition that dates back to 1000 AD. The Temple Fairs themselves takes place year-round but reach a new level of intensity during New Year. The Dongyue Temple Fair, which traces its roots to the Yuan Dynasty, features five days of performances, with opera singers, acrobats, calligraphers, drummers, stilt-walkers, and puppet shows. And another standout includes the Ditan Park Temple Fair, which features carnival shows, a “peacock dance,” and a wide array of food selections to choose from, including niangao (New Year cakes). Beyond the Temple Fairs, visitors can also attend the Longqing Gorge Ice and Snow Festival (about 50 miles outside of central Beijing) or the Longtan Fair (featuring a 300-person parade and sport events).
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Beijing Travel Guide
Known as the biggest New Year celebration outside of China, London’s parade kicks off in the morning, followed by a festival centered in Trafalgar Square, where dancers, acrobats, martial artists, musicians, and a number of artists from China entertain half a million spectators. More than 100 restaurants host special events and feature unique menus in honor of the festival, which includes more than six hours of performances, in addition to the food and craft stalls spread throughout the area.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s London Travel Guide
New York City
While there are numerous celebrations occurring throughout the city (and plenty of great spots to grab some Chinese food), the big spectacle is Chinatown’s Lunar New Year Parade & Festival. The celebration draws more than half a million people to watch floats, dancers, and dragons weave their way through Little Italy and Chinatown. And at night (on the first day of the New Year), crowds gather at Sara D. Roosevelt Park to watch more than 500,000 firecrackers light up the sky. If you want an equally thrilling celebration outside of Manhattan, head to Flushing, Queens, which boasts one of the fastest growing Chinatowns in the world.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s New York City Travel Guide
San Francisco’s legendary Chinese New Year celebration features more than 5,000 parade performers and draws crowds of more than one million people, making it the largest parade outside of Asia. It takes about 100 participants just to handle the 268-foot long Golden Dragon alone, a favorite among viewers. The parade, which dates back to the 1860s, has been dubbed one of the top ten parades in the world by the International Festivals & Events Association. In addition to entertainment along the route, the city hosts a street fair, a Miss Chinatown USA Pageant and Coronation, a San Francisco Symphony concert (featuring Asian-influenced musical selections), and a Basketball Jamboree.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s San Francisco Travel Guide
With one of the largest Chinatowns in the North America, Vancouver hosts quite the New Year celebration. While the annual parade, which attracts more than 50,000 people and features 3,000 participants, is of course a must-see, visitors should also make sure to check out Vancouver’s newest addition to the festivities, LunarFest. The celebration will include exhibits, performances, and plenty of Chinese dumplings.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Vancouver Travel Guide
Hong Kong’s Chinese New Year celebration has been named one of the top festivals in the world; the three-day celebration is filled with fireworks, parades, and horse races. The festivities start with a parade in the evening through Tsim Sha Tsui, featuring dancers, jugglers, marching bands, and more than 30 elaborate floats. The second day of celebration includes a dazzling fireworks display over the Victoria Harbor that typically lasts for more than 20 minutes. The celebration culminates with more than 100,000 people watching horse races at the Sha Tin Racecourse. Throughout the festivities, you can also attend flower and festival markets throughout Hong Kong.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Hong Kong Travel Guide
A partnership between Beijing and Helsinki spurred the creation of a giant Finland-based Chinese New Year celebration that has continued to grow in recent years. The festive atmosphere includes performers from Helsinki and Beijing, a giant video screen streaming the festival from Chinese capital, and a giant Chinese market at Lasipalatsi square. The square is decorated with 80 Chinese lantern soldiers, inspired by the Terracotta Warriors in China, and the evening ends with fireworks over Töölönlahti Bay. The entire celebration only dates back to 2007, when the partnership between Beijing and Helsinki was first established.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Helsinki Travel Guide
Sydney’s New Year Festival features 90 six-foot tall Terracotta Warrior lanterns that will be displayed along the Sydney Harbor. As part of Lunar Streets, each street in Chinatown, Thaitown, and Koreatown is serving up different food items under glowing lanterns hung throughout the city. New Year standards like the massive Twilight Parade, Dragon Boat Races, and Lunar Feast restaurant deals all add to the atmosphere as well.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Sydney Travel Guide
In Singapore, the weeks before Chinese New Year takes place are filled with celebrations, carnival shows, parties, street bazaars, and even an International Lion Dance Competition. Fortunately, there’s still plenty left to celebrate during the actual holiday. Chinatown hosts a New Year countdown with music, performances, and plenty of fireworks to excite the crowds. Be sure the visit the Singapore River Hongbao Carnival, with delicious food for a bargain price and rides, the Festive Street Bazaar, and the Huayi Festival, which all span several days throughout the month. Don’t forget about the Chingay Parade—Asia’s largest street procession—with 11,000 performers.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Singapore Travel Guide
In addition to Paris’s big Chinatown parade, the city hosts two additional parades in the Marais District and in Belleville. The Marais Parade features the “opening of the dragon’s eye,” followed by dancers, more dragons, and drummers marching through the streets of the 3rd and 4th districts and near the Centre Georges Pompidou. The Belleville Parade, on the morning of February 8, includes an afternoon of dancing and martial arts presentations. But don’t forget to line up for the big Chinatown celebration, which starts at the Metro Gobelins and culminates at Avenue d’Ivry.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Paris Travel Guide