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Local leaders to celebrate Year of the Ox

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Beth Winegarner
San Francisco Examiner
January 30, 2009

For David Chiu, coming to San Francisco — with its thriving, thronging Chinese American community and its all-out celebration of the Chinese New Year — was something of a revelation.

The new Board of Supervisors president, representing North Beach and Chinatown, grew up in Boston, where the feasting and festivities of the Lunar New Year were predominantly a quiet family affair. San Francisco’s celebration, with its hundreds of banquets and internationally celebrated parade, was “great, and frankly, a little overwhelming,” Chiu said.

This week, San Francisco’s Chinese-­American community ushered in the Year of the Ox the same way as past generations: with multi-course meals replete with whole chickens and fish, and noodles for long life. Children will receive much-beloved red envelopes stuffed with coins, and families will perform a ritual of cleaning of the household and lighting a few firecrackers to start the new year with a bang.

The celebration began Monday, the official dawning of the Year of the Ox.

Then, on Feb. 7, some 500,000 people are expect to flock to Chinatown for San Francisco’s annual New Year’s parade, featuring more than 100 floats led by a new, 228-foot-long golden dragon, according to parade director Karen Eng. Most of the holiday traditions hinge on bringing long life and good luck to revelers.

In 2008, the Year of the Rat, couples rushed to get married or have children because the rat is the first sign of the Chinese zodiac, bringing with it the extra luck of a new cycle beginning. The ox, second in the zodiac, carries less significance — but the turning of the year is still a time of tradition.

“Everybody gets new haircuts before New Year’s Day because if you wait, it’s like cutting away your fortune,” Eng said. “Your house has to be cleaned beforehand, otherwise you’re sweeping away your fortune.”

During the Lunar New Year, the color red is everywhere, from paper lanterns to clothing, a suggestion of luck and vitality, according to Judy Hu, spokeswoman for the Chinese Historical Society. Citrus fruits also bring luck because they’re reddish in color.

“My daughter and I eat lots of oranges and tangerines to bring good luck,” said Supervisor Eric Mar, who represents the Richmond district.

Like many in San Francisco’s Chinese community, Mar’s favorite memories of the New Year hinge on food.

“I can still remember the New Year smells of my grandmother’s house,” Mar said. “Even though San Francisco has a fantastic range of Chinese restaurants, my grandmother’s home cooking, especially on Chinese New Year, will always be my favorite.”

Sunset district Supervisor Carmen Chu celebrates the holiday each year with her family, gathering around a spread of candy, fruit and flowers. Getting the whole Chu clan together — especially extended family — is especially meaningful, she said.

“It’s a true community affair,” said Chiu, who — thanks to his new place at the top of the Board of Supervisors — has been asked to attend dozens of New Year’s banquets this month. “I’ve had many wonderful New Year’s dinners with mixed-race groups — it’s a great way for community-building between Chinese and non-Chinese folks.”

This story originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

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Written by Beth Winegarner

January 30, 2009 at 6:48 AM

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