Keeping customs alive in San Francisco for the Year of the Rabbit 

Julie Chen carefully sifted through paper decorations of bright-colored rabbits in hopes of finding the perfect combination to display in her home in celebration of the Chinese New Year.

Every year, Chen and her two daughters visit the heart of Chinatown to stock up on decorations for the annual celebration. She buys fresh fruits and flowers to bring good luck, which is a cultural tradition. The shopping list is pretty much the same every year, except for one thing.

“Each year, the animal is different,” the 43-year-old San Francisco resident said during a recent visit to Chinatown.

Today, Chen, her daughters and millions of others will welcome in the Year of the Rabbit. The hare is the fourth animal in the Chinese zodiac 13-month astrology calendar. It signifies ambition, articulation and talent. Last year was the Year of the Tiger.

Check out what the Year of the Rabbit holds for you with our Chinese horoscopes.

New Year’s celebrations are centered around family and food, and steeped in tradition. People purchase flowers that will not wilt, but are long lasting so as to bring good fortune and prosperity to the home.

Each year, thousands of people descend on San Francisco to celebrate the Chinese New Year. There are street festivals and the Southwest Airlines Chinese New Year Parade, considered the largest outside mainland China. Last year, an estimated 1 million people attended San Francisco’s parade, according to Karen Eng, a spokeswoman for the event.

Before New Year’s comes, however, Chinese families have a lot of work to do, Eng said.

For instance, the Chinese believe in order to start the new year off fresh, all debts need to be paid, fresh flowers need to be purchased and the house needs to be cleaned.

“Once you do all that, you should be fine and have good luck,” Eng said.

For Eileen Wou, the Chinese New Year means big family feasts.

“It’s like our Christmas Eve,” she said.

Wou, 61 and a San Francisco resident, said her parents, children and siblings, and all their children, will descend on her house for dinner the night before New Year’s.

Many years, Wou said she will cook for upward of two-dozen people. This year, though, the family will probably eat out.

“It’s a lot of work,” she said of cooking for the family.

Wou, though, will be sure to make sweet rice cakes and put out tangerines. On the eve, Wou said she would return to Chinatown to pick up a fresh fish to steam. A whole fish, she said, will bring her family good fortune.

In addition to the traditions to bring good fortune, many Chinese youths are given an envelope with money. Also, unmarried members of the family and children are given red envelopes containing money meant for luck or to purchase sweets.

The cash is what Chen’s daughters Maggie Lou, 12, and Lydia Lou, 17, said they are most looking forward to with the Year of the Rabbit.

Though most of her kin is still in China, Chen said the family tries to keep the tradition and the New Year’s celebrations alive.

“We cook together or go to a restaurant,” she said. “All tradition.”

Celebrating Chinese New Year

Today, the Chinese Chamber of Commerce and many other community organizations will welcome the Year of the Rabbit with a parade, flowers and family gatherings.

- Year of the Rabbit begins Feb. 3, and ends Jan. 22

- Rabbits were born in these years: 1915, 1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999

- Famous people born in the Year of the Rabbit: Angelina Jolie, Anjelica Huston, Drew Barrymore, Helen Hunt, Jane Seymour, Kate Winslet and Tina Turner

- Benefits of being born in Year of the Rabbit: Clever at business; conscientious; never back out of a contract; good gamblers because of uncanny gift of choosing correctly

- Most compatible with those born in the years of the sheep, pig and dog

Sources: Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco, Chinese Chamber of Commerce

Upcoming activities

Chinese New Year Day

Thursday, Feb. 10
Miss Chinatown USA Pageant
When: 7:30 p.m.
Where: Palace of Fine Arts, 3301 Lyon St., S.F.

What: International Asian American Film Festival
When: 8 p.m. to midnight
Where: 111 Minna Gallery, 111 Minna St., S.F.

Saturday, Feb. 12
Chinese New Year Basketball Jamboree
When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Where: Chinese Recreation Center, 1199 Mason St., S.F.

Sunday, Feb. 13
Chinese New Year 10K-5K walk-run
When: 8 a.m.
Where: YMCA, 855 Sacramento St., S.F.

Friday, Feb. 18
Miss Chinatown Coronation Ball
When: 6 p.m.
Where: San Francisco Hilton, 333 O’Farrell St., S.F.

Saturday, Feb. 19
Chinese Community Street Fair
When: 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Where: Chinatown, S.F. — Grant Avenue from Clay Street to Broadway; Pacific Avenue from Kearny Street to Stockton Street; Jackson Street from Kearny to Stockton

What: Chinese Culture Center Spring Festival
When: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Where: Chinese Culture Center, 750 Kearny St., S.F.

What: Chinese New Year Parade
When: 5:30 p.m.



Seasonal flora and fauna for Chinese New Year

Common fruits and flowers used to celebrate the Chinese New Year and why the flower is traditionally used.

Mandarin orange: Their shape and color symbolize the sun and connect with the “yang” principal, which represents the positive element and generative force in nature.

Pomelo: Using one to decorate one’s home during the New Year implies a wish that the home will have everything it needs in the New Year.

Pine, bamboo and plum: These three plants are models of fortitude and uprightedness in adverse conditions. Pine is a symbol of nobility and venerability; bamboo symbolizes humility and fidelity; and plum stands for perseverance and purity.

Quince: A substitute for peach and plum trees in San Francisco, it is customary for families to have blossoming trees during the New Year because the Chinese believe it will bring prosperity.

Peach blossom: Considered sacred in China, the wood of the tree is used for charm against evil. The blossom is placed in the oldest, purest vase. The belief there is the older the vase, the longer the flower will bloom.
Narcissus: The Chinese water fairy flower, a symbol of good fortune and prosperity.

Pussy willow: The fluffy white blossoms resemble silk and they soon give forth young shoots of color of green jade. The change symbolizes growth and represents the coming prosperity.

Kumquat: A pun for gold and good fortune, placed in homes in hopes of bringing good fortune for the New Year.

Source: Asian Art Museum

Other common symbols of the Chinese New Year

Red envelopes: Filled with crisp $1, $5 and $10 bills for children to buy sweets with.

Couplets: Red paper displays with gold lettering wishing “prosperity” to family and neighbors in the new year.

Fish: A common food in New Year feasts, a symbol of continued plenty.

Dragon: Mythical creature that showcases the best of Chinese traditions will end the parade; symbolizes goodness, fertility, vigilance and poise.

Source: Chinese Chamber

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