When the new moon rose blankly into the nightsky on Feb. 7, it marked the end of the lunar year 4705, but for Chinese families across San Francisco, the passing of that milestone was only the beginning of a nearly three-week celebration that ushers in Chinese New Year.
Boisterous gatherings, long lines of banquet food and streams of gifts highlight the extended stretch of revelry, starting with the new moon appearance that marks the onset of the traditional Chinese lunar calendar, and culminating with the Lantern Festival, occurring 15 days later with the arrival of the full moon.
In San Francisco, the high point of the celebration comes with the Chinese New Year Parade and Festival, a city tradition for nearly 150 years that will continue on Saturday, when the procession kicks off at 5:30 p.m. at Market and Second streets.
For Chinese-American Shirley Fong-Torres, a longtime parade attendee and owner of Wok Wiz, a company specializing in daily Chinatown walking tours, there is a simple explanation for the lengthy celebration period honoring the new year.
"We’re the original party animals," said Fong-Torres, a Bay Area native whose brother Ben, a journalist, will cover Saturday’s parade for television station KTVU (Channel 2). "We outlast everybody else. We make it though Mardi Gras and Valentine’s Day still going strong."
Although Fong-Torres joyfully soaks up the high times, she is also keenly aware of the significant traditional aspects that coincide with the most important holiday in Chinese culture.
"This is about being with your family and enjoying the prosperity of a new beginning," she said. "From the blooming azaleas in businesses to platters of oranges and tangerines in our homes, everything that happens during these two weeks is steeped in cultural meaning."
According to Karen Eng, event coordinator for the Chinese New Year Festival and Parade, this time is an opportunity for many Chinese residents to be mindful of new beginnings.
"The new year signifies rebirth," she said. "It’s a new slate, an opportunity to pay all our debts and move forward. It’s about recognizing our tradition."
Wishing relatives good luck by offering oranges and red envelopes filled with coins is one of the ways the Chinese offer homage to their cultural traditions, Eng said. Most importantly, she said, lavish meal preparation is a cornerstone of this time of year.
According to Eng, the dishes are carefully selected. Many families opt to feature meals with nine different courses, because that number is synonymous with a long life. Whole chickens are used because of their traditional attachment with goodness on Earth, and whole fishes are cooked based on their cultural significance of revisiting abundance, she said.
"Everything comes together right now," Eng said. "The food, the families, the tradition. It’s all part of a very special time of the year for us."
Caltrain will run on its regular weekend schedule, with trains departing San Francisco every hour until 12:01 a.m.
BART will run on its regular schedule, but trains will be longer and able to accommodate bigger crowds.
Nineteen Muni lines will be rerouted during the parade, including 16 street buses, the California and Powell cable cars and the F-Market street car.
Traffic will be closed on the following streets while the parade passes through: Market Street from Second to Beale streets, Second Street from Market to Mission streets, Geary Street from Market to Powell streets, Powell Street from Geary to Kearny streets, Kearny Street from Powell Street to Columbus Avenue.