By Becky Lee
With the cancellation of the annual Chinese New Year parade due to the pandemic, communities across the Sunset and Richmond districts are finding new ways to celebrate.
The sights and sounds of Chinese New Year, also known as the Lunar New Year, are hard to recreate indoors. The two-week-long holiday is typically punctuated by larger-than-life lions dancing through the streets, firecrackers popping and the beating of ceremonial drums.
San Francisco’s annual Chinese New Year parade is the largest Asian cultural event in North America. As COVID-19 cases continued to rise, however, the Chinese Chamber of Commerce of San Francisco (CCCSF) decided to cancel the parade and instead will be hosting a Chinese New Year Special at 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 20 (KTVU 2/KTSF 26).
The new moon on Feb. 12 marks the first day of the Year of the Ox.
The Chinese zodiac assigns an animal and its characteristics to each year in a 12-year cycle. As legend goes, the Jade Emperor decided the order based on how the animals finished in a grand race. The Ox came in second, outsmarted by the Rat, who came in first by hiding on the Ox’s back, then scurrying ahead to the finish line.
This year, in place of floats and crowds, the CCCSF is launching the Year of the Ox on Parade, a series of life-size ox sculptures which will be displayed. The sculptures will be displayed throughout the city from Feb. 3 to March 14, then auctioned off to benefit Chinese nonprofit organizations.
San Francisco is home to the largest Chinatown outside of Asia. During the Gold Rush, Chinatown was the only area in which Chinese people were allowed to live. Then, in 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act blocked immigration from China to the United States completely.
Even after the Act was repealed in 1943, only 105 Chinese people were allowed to enter per year. It wasn’t until the 1965 Immigration and Naturalization Act that Chinese immigrants came to San Francisco in droves, shaping the City.
Today, more than half of the Sunset District’s residents are Asian, mostly of Chinese descent. A sizable Chinese population also resides in the Richmond District, with the Inner Richmond sometimes referred to as “New Chinatown” or “Second Chinatown.”
Allegra Hsiao, a stylist and surfer who currently lives in the Richmond, said she’ll be teaching her 2 year old about the New Year’s traditions watching lion dancers and parades on TV or YouTube.
“As a child, my favorite part of Chinese New Year was that your parents couldn’t scold or punish you for a whole week!” Hsiao said. “As an adult, I try to practice a number of traditions like wearing new clothes, keeping a clean house and tying up loose ends.”
Naomi Hui, the community relations manager at the Richmond Neighborhood Center, typically celebrates by “eating a big meal that includes auspicious foods like noodles, fish, oranges and pomelos.” Noodles, especially long ones, symbolize longevity, while pomelos represent prosperity in the new year.
Across the park in the Sunset District, Mary Ann Naughton, a medical assistant, will be celebrating Chinese New Year with her pandemic pod, including her parents and brother. They will be serving “rice to symbolize never going hungry, and peanuts in the shell for long life.”
Jenny Pei owns Sweet Passion Bakery on Taraval Street. The bakery celebrates Chinese New Year by decorating with red posters, lanterns, and firecrackers, as well as closing for three days to give workers time to relax. Her favorite tradition is “passing out red envelopes with money for children. It’s lovely to see their eyes light up.”
Ashley Mui and her brother Preston were born and raised in the Sunset. Both are young creatives who have found themselves back in the Bay Area after periods of living in New York. Ashley is an artist and filmmaker, and Preston is a choreographer and dancer with Broadway credits as part of Hamilton.
As a child, Preston performed in the Chinese New Year parade with the Tat Wong Kung Fu studio, which is still in operation on Clement Street. In more recent years, their mother joined the parade with her tai chi community.
This Lunar New Year, the Mui siblings are launching a design company, Ho Mei Do, which means “tasty” in Cantonese. The company celebrates Asian arts and culture and features a limited edition Chinese Zodiac enamel pin collection and Lunar New Year calendar.
Ashley created the designs for the pins by hand, each featuring one of the 12 animals of the Chinese Zodiac. The Lunar New Year calendar places the animals around a wheel, illustrating the 12 year cycle.
“This year, more than ever, it was important for me to release the calendar,” she said. “People can celebrate by learning about the Lunar New Year and the zodiac animals.”
She and Preston see the company as a way to honor their roots, particularly their late grandfather, who owned a restaurant in Chinatown.
They are particularly inspired to create something for the next generation, including their nieces and nephews who have been watching them go from design to production.
“To me, that’s the most important thing, that I’m leaving a trail of crumbs,” Ashley said. “It’s a legacy for us.”
Categories: Lunar New Year