Updated: Mar 14
One of the greatest things about living in the San Francisco Bay Area is the diversity and our ability to embrace each other’s cultures and traditions. As a relocation professional, I love hearing about my some of my client’s unique traditions they celebrate back home; being able to show them a local store where they can buy household and food items that remind them of home consistently brightens up my day. One tradition near and dear to me that we have adopted in our offices at Move Bay Area is the Chinese (Lunar) New Year. The Lunar New Year is one of the most widely celebrated holidays globally and you may hear people around you in the Bay Area wishing each other “happy new year” in February!
As the Bay Area is home to one of the largest Chinese-American populations in the U.S., it’s fitting that we have our own televised parades, festivals, and endless places to ring in the new year over a feast. For new Bay Areans (and locals alike) who’d like to partake but don’t know how, try out some celebrations and traditions below to ring in some luck for the year.
Living in the Bay Area, you won’t be more than 20 minutes away from a supermarket or shopping center that carries everything you’ll need to prepare for your New Year celebration. 99 Ranch markets throughout the Bay Area (in Daly City, Richmond, Fremont and Concord) and San Francisco and Oakland Chinatowns carry ingredients, supplies, and special holiday decorations. If you look hard enough, you can even purchase firecrackers in certain shops in SF’s Chinatown - but you didn’t hear that from us. This past weekend, our family rang in the “Year of the Pig” with Hot Pot, a feast of meat, veggies, and noodles dipped in a boiling broth followed by a rousing game of Mahjong which none of us entirely knew how to play.
Traditions and Practices
Lunar New Year is observed during the first fifteen days of the year of the Lunar calendar and never occurs on the same days. In 2019, Lunar New Year is celebrated on February 5th through February 19th.
Here’s how you can celebrate Lunar New Year – Year of the Pig in your home:
January 28th – February 4th:
Cleaning and decorating – You can spend several days leading up the Lunar New Year (February 5th) cleaning your home to wash away any bad luck from the previous year and to make way for new luck. Once cleaning is complete, remember to stow away brooms and dustpans, so you won’t be tempted to “sweep away” any good fortune on New Year’s Day. You can find well-wishing red banners or lanterns at your local Asian supermarkets. We got ours at 99 Ranch.
Hair grooming – Get your hair cut before New Year’s Day (definitely avoid doing this on New Year’s Day). It’s considered bad luck to cut or wash your hair on New Year’s Day because the Chinese word for “hair” is a homonym for “prosperity.”
Debts – Settle any debts that you owe before New Year’s Day or you may set yourself up for owing or borrowing for the entire year to come.
New Year’s Eve Reunion Dinner – The Reunion dinner is arguably the most important and favorite New Year’s tradition as sharing this meal signifies family unity. Dinner should feature dishes that bring good fortunes such as fish (prosperity), dumplings (wealth), noodles (longevity), and desserts (sweet life). If you’re feeling flush and live by the motto “spend money to make money”, make reservations at one of the countless banquet restaurants in the Bay Area and order set New Year’s dinners. The kitchen staff will handle everything, serving you several courses of delicious food throughout the night. With some restaurants seating 100s of people, the banquet meal is a sight to behold and a staple of Chinese culture; loud relatives, live seafood fished out of tanks, and some great people watching.
For a more affordable home dinner, but no less boisterous, try Hot Pot. Similar to Japanese Shabu Shabu, Hot Pot is a feast of meats, seafood, veggies, noodles, and anything you want, cooked DIY style in a centerpiece broth. The highlight for most people is thinly-sliced beef - you can get this pre-sliced at any 99 Ranch store.
February 5th: New Year’s Day
New Year’s Day is a day spent praying and providing offerings to gods and ancestors. Firecrackers and fireworks are set off to ring in the New Year. Businesses commission lion dancers to put on elaborately choreographed dances to ward off any lingering evil spirits.
Do’s: Wear plenty of red, eat sweets, avoid sharp objects
Don’ts: Cut or wash hair, clean or sweep, borrow money, buy shoes, argue or cry
February 6th - February 18th:
This time is spent visiting family and friends to spread well wishes and good fortune. When we visit, we bring flowers and citrus fruits (always in even numbers - except never-ending in fours, the number associated with death - and with as many leaves intact) Older relatives give children red envelopes filled with money, usually given from married couples to unmarried children as a means of spreading wealth and good fortune. The actual significance is not the money inside (so a small amount is ok!) but the color of the envelopes themselves. Red symbolizes luck, energy, and happiness.
Events around the Bay
Free Admission to San Francisco Zoo*, February 10th
(*Free admission to anyone born the Year of the Pig)
OACC Annual Lunar New Year Celebration, February 10th, 11am-3pm Where: Oakland Asian Cultural Center Chinese New Year Community Fair February 23rd, 24th 10am-4pm
Where: San Francisco Chinatown What: Two-day community event of Chinese folk-dancing, opera and street vendors and more!
Chinese New Year Parade, February 23rd 6-8pm Where: San Francisco Chinatown
San Francisco Chinese New Year Parade is one of the largest of its kind.
Commonly known as the Spring Festival in mainland China, the term Lunar New Year includes the first days of the Lunar calendar and marks the end of the coldest months of the year. For China, traditionally an agrarian society, the celebration of the New Year and the arrival of spring was meant to usher in new beginnings, good fortune