The Best Places In The US To Celebrate Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year – or Spring Festival as it’s also known – is a Chinese celebration that marks the start of new life. Each year is associated with an animal from the Chinese zodiac and 2013 will welcome the year of the snake.

New Year is the most important holiday in China (a lot like Christmas is in the West), and Chinese families celebrate by buying gifts, food and clothing. However, it wouldn’t be a Chinese festival if there weren’t a few activities designed to bring in good luck, so families will thoroughly clean their houses – sweeping out any bad luck and making way for good fortune. They’ll also decorate their homes with red paper lanterns, which signify luck, wealth and prosperity.

For Westerners, though, the most prominent part of Chinese New Year has always been the colorful parades put on by local Chinese communities. Lion dances, giant dragon costumes, floats, music and fireworks are all part of the festivities. Want to join in? Read on to learn more about what you can expect at some of the top Chinese New Year celebrations in America.

San Francisco

San Francisco is home to the largest Chinatown in the United States, and Chinese New Year Parades (see image above) have been taking place there since the 1860s when Chinese immigrants to the area decided to showcase their culture. The event has grown into the biggest Chinese New Year celebration outside of Asia, drawing nearly a million spectators each year. It has even been recognized as one of the best festivals in the world by the International Festival and Events Association.

San Francisco’s evening procession is one of the few illuminated parades left in the country. So in addition to colorful floats, dance groups, bands, stilt walkers and drummers, expect to see lots of lights. The pièce de résistance? A 268-foot golden dragon, which will require a team of 100 people from the martial arts community to carry it through the streets.

San Francisco’s Chinese New Year parade takes place on Saturday February 23 at 5:15 p.m. The procession kicks off from Second and Market St. and makes its way to Chinatown where it concludes. You can get route and visitor information here. In addition to the parade, the city will also be hosting a Chinese New Year Flower Market, a Miss Chinatown USA pageant and a Chinese New Year Run.

New York City

At nearly half a million people, New York has the largest Chinese American population of any city in the U.S. – so it’s not surprising that the Big Apple puts on several different events to mark Chinese New Year.

First up, there’s the Firecracker Ceremony and Cultural Festival. Here you can enjoy drumming and dance performances, and munch on Asian fare from one of the many food stalls. However, what you’ve really come for are the pyrotechnics – in previous years, the event organizers have set off more than 600,000 firecrackers. The festival is not just about celebrating the New Year with a bang, however – the loud noises from the firecrackers are believed to chase away evil spirits. The Firecracker Ceremony and Cultural Festival takes place on Sunday, February 10 from 11 a.m. at Sara Roosevelt Park.

Next up, there’s the Chinatown Lunar New Year Parade and Festival. This event, which is in its 14th year, boasts decorated floats, performers in elaborate costumes, marching bands and more. The parade takes place on Sunday, February 17 at 1 p.m., starting in Little Italy and winding its way through the main streets of lower Chinatown.

And finally, don’t miss the Chinese New Year Flower Market. Filling the home with flowers and food is a traditional part of Chinese New Year. At this flower market, you’ll find arts and crafts, as well as plenty of blooms to bring prosperity into your new year. From February 8-10 at Columbus Park. For more information about New York’s festivities, click here.

Chicago

Chicago‘s Chinatown is a vibrant community home to 10,000 people and 400 businesses including ethnic shops and restaurants. The neighborhood celebrated its 100th anniversary last year, which it marked with a massive Chinese New Year festival. This year’s event is sure to be another great one.

Previous year’s parades have featured marching bands, colorful floats, lion dancers and the obligatory dragon dance – a team of skilled performers who bring life to the 100-foot-long dragon costume. The dragon is believed to represent power and nobility, and like many things that take place during the New Year celebrations, it is a bearer of good luck.

Chicago’s Lunar New Year Parade will take place on Sunday, February 17 at 1 p.m. along Chinatown’s Wentworth Ave. See here for more information.

[Photo credits: Flickr users Robert Raines, Howard Brier, and Yenna]

Christmas Travel: Happy, Budget-Minded Places To Go

Christmas

Many travelers have places to spend Christmas nailed down far in advance. Tradition may have us going back home to join with family and friends in an annual celebration. Airline tickets may have been purchased months ago, cashing in on the best rates. A place to stay is not an issue, we’ll take a sofa at one place or another, surrounded by those we care for.

Others don’t have such happy plans in place. Maybe economic concerns made advance planning impossible. Maybe the whole idea of gifting, taking time off work, getting there and other concerns have them stuck at home with no apparent way out. For those people, we have a list of happy places we can go, scattered around the United States, that offer an alternative to a “Bah Humbug” attitude at budget prices.

New York City
New Yorkers have celebrating Christmas down to a science and the city goes all out this time of year. Christmas trees, lights, Broadway shows or simply window-shopping make for a good time. Ride a horse-drawn carriage in Central Park (about $100), ice-skate at Rockefeller center ($20), or just stand in the middle of Times Square for a hefty dose of Christmas magic.

Christmas, Florida
Odds are pretty good that we won’t see a white Christmas at this central Florida location but a stop by Christmas, Florida, can sure get us in the mood. About 20 miles east of Orlando, it’s Christmastime year-round here with Christmas trees and reindeer on display all the time. Not far is the Fort Christmas Historical Park, a replica of the original fort, built in 1837 during the Seminole Indian War and all the central Florida attractions, all dressed for the holidays.

Woodbury, Connecticut
How about zooming over snow covered hills for a new Christmas tradition? Connecticut’s Woodbury Ski Area lets us do just that on a zip line ($89 for four hours) or we can fly down a mountain in our own tube. The mountain has three zip line tracks, close to a mile of tubing trails, and over 20 different snow tubing courses. You can also enjoy the areas 12 courses or skiing, snowboarding and snow bikes that are lighted for night use.

Harbor Christmas Parades, California
Scattered around California, are a number of harbor, boat and yacht parades that may be just what your Christmas Grinch needs to get in the mood. San Diego Harbor’s Parade of Lights, the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade and Oakland’s Lighted Yacht Parade are free and host hundreds of lighted pleasure craft. The Huntington Harbor Cruise of Lights is a seasonal trip through the harbor’s waterways with views of decorated houses.

Christmas boat parades are not limited to California. Check this video for a look at Portland, Oregon’s Christmas Ship Parade:


Want to find some holiday events close to you? A national listing of all local Convention and Visitors Bureau’s might be a good place to start.

[Photo credit- Flickr user Tom Hilton]

Video of the Day: Tilt-shift Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro

Carnaval (or, as we like to write it, Carnival) was last week, but we’re just not done celebrating here at Gadling HQ. This video is from Carnaval 2011 in Rio de Janeiro, but we can’t stop watching it. Of course, we love tilt-shift and this video uses the technique perfectly. Though, we’d like some explanation about why it opens with someone getting rescued from the ocean by a helicopter. Well, Carnaval is crazy like that.

Rio Carnival 2012: Backstage at the Sambadrome parades


“Follow the feathers” was my strategy for finding the Sambadrome stadium in Brazil this past Sunday, the first evening of Rio Carnival‘s famed samba parades. The metro exit was packed with crowds moving in all different directions, so I had little choice but to follow the handful of people wearing large, extravagant costumes in front of me. They were obviously going where I needed to go.

The strategy worked out, because my costumed friends didn’t just lead me to the parade venue — they headed straight for the backstage staging area where hundreds of dancers and participants were being outfitted for the main event. As the costumed gentry walked through the security gates, I concealed myself in their feathers and followed along. Backstage access, secured.

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The highlight of Rio de Janeiro‘s Carnival festivities, the Sambadrome parades are all-night marathon spectacles of samba school processions that take place over the Sunday and Monday of Carnival. The parades start at 8 p.m. and last until well past dawn, with about seven schools putting on elaborate shows of about an hour each.

Rio’s samba schools spend all year preparing for the parades, constructing huge floats, designing extravagant costumes, and of course, choreographing and practicing complex samba numbers. Each samba school chooses a theme and a story, usually related to some aspect of Brazilian culture. This year, for the first time, booklets were distributed to all guests that laid out each act of the parade, highlighted special celebrities, and listed the lyrics to each samba school’s signature marchinhas, or Carnival songs.


The work pays off. Thousands of people, Brazilians and tourists alike, pay up to $1500 for a chance to view the parades, and the results are followed as closely as the American Super Bowl. Schools are judged by ten categories, including theme, samba song, percussion band, harmony, flow and spirit, floats and props, costumes, vanguard group, flag carrying couple, and overall impression. This year, Unidas de Tijuca took the top prize, with a theme centered around folk singer Luiz Gonzaga and the culture of Brazil’s northeast region.

And the parades themselves? Breathtaking. The floats were massive, with mechanized figures and fountains. The costumes were gorgeous, and with the binoculars I borrowed from my neighbor, I could see the intricacies of the sequins and beading. The dancing was tremendous, and the 3,000 to 5,000 paraders exuded an energy that infected the entire stadium. Everyone was on their feet.

What words and photos can’t describe, hopefully this video can. Or, you could just start planning for next year.

Check out Gadling’s full range of Rio Carnival 2012 coverage here.

Rio Carnival 2012: 10 best bloco street parties

If you want to feel the real essence of Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, look no further than the city streets. In the weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday, lively street parties and parades, called blocos, wind throughout Rio’s various neighborhoods, led by floats blaring live samba music. Crowds can swell to upwards of 200,000 people, many dressed in outrageous costumes and more than a little intoxicated.

This year, Rio’s tourism board approved 424 different blocos of all sizes and themes. With so many to choose from, where do you begin? This list includes some of the most popular.

Banda de Ipanema
Where: Rua Gomes Carneiro to Praça General Osório.
When: Feb. 18 and Feb. 21 at 6 p.m.
Why go: One of Rio Carnival’s longest-running blocos, Banda da Ipanema runs along the beachfront at sunset, providing stunning views to those who break away long enough from the party to enjoy them. Flamboyant drag queens come out in droves, so feel free to go crazier than usual with your costumes.Bangalafumenga
Where: Av. Infante Dom Henrique
When: Feb. 19 at 10 a.m.
Why go: The core band members are popular local musicians, performing year-round in venues across Rio. Expect the traditional Carnival marchinhas, along with some funk, pop, and rock thrown in.

Carmelitas
Where: Rua Almirante Alexandrino, winding through Santa Teresa.
When: Feb. 21 at 10 a.m.
Why go: This bloco is inspired by a local legend about a Carmelite nun who jumped the walls of her convent in Santa Teresa to join Carnival. Most revelers sport a colorful veil.

Cordão do Boitatá
Where: Rua do Mercado and Rua do Ouvidor, ending with a street party at Praça XV.
When: Feb. 19 at 8 a.m.
Why go: Inspired by Brazilian folk traditions, Cordão do Boitatá is slightly more peaceful and family-oriented than many of the other blocos.

Cordão da Bola Preta
Where: Largo da Candelária in Centro, going down Avenida Rio Branco to Cinelândia.
When: Feb. 18 at 9:30 a.m.
Why go: Reportedly Rio’s largest bloco, Cordão da Bola Preta is popular across demographics. Wear an outfit with the signature black polka dots on white to blend in.

Escravos da Mauá
Where: Largo de Santa Rita, going through Centro and finishing in Rua do Acre
When: Feb. 12 at 12 p.m.
Why go: This bloco‘s path takes you through the historical Saúde district, Praça Mauá and Morro da Conceição — the birthplace of Carnival street parties.

Que Merda é Essa?!
Where: Rua Garcia D’ávila and Rua Nascimento Silva, going along Vieira Souto in Ipanema.
When: Feb. 19 at 4 p.m.
Why go: Translated, the name of this bloco is “What the S- is This?” Enough said.

Monobloco
Where: Av. Rio Branco and Av. Presidente Vargas, ending at Cinelândia.
When: Feb. 26 at 9 a.m.
Why go: The Monobloco parade is so popular, it was recently moved to Centro so it could accommodate everyone who wanted to participate. Music is led by the popular percussion-based Pedro Luís e a Parede.

Simpatia é Quase Amor
Where: Praça General Osório, going down the Ipanema shoreline to Leblon.
When: Feb. 19 at 4 p.m.
Why go: The crowd at this bloco veers toward young and flirty, making it a great place to meet people.

Suvaco do Cristo
Where: Rua Jardim Botânico, going through the Jardim Botânico.
When: Feb. 12 at 9 a.m.
Why go: This low-key bloco goes through Rio’s botanical gardens, which should already be on your list of places to visit. Why not hit two birds with one stone?

Check out Gadling’s full range of Rio Carnival 2012 coverage here.