Going by sheer numbers, the Lunar New Year ranks as one of the most popular holidays in the world, only outdone by New Year’s Day itself.
All of China shuts down for more than a week around the first day of the lunar calendar, with many of the country’s 1.4 billion people flocking back home for food and family or at least craning their necks out their windows to watch fireworks.
Ditto for Vietnam’s Tet Festival, Korea’s Seollal holiday and New Year’s festivities in Mongolia and Tibet, all of which mark the start of the lunar calendar. Unlike the 365-day calendar, the lunar one follows the moon’s 12 cycles, which add up to 354 days. China and several other countries add extra days to the lunar year so that it more closely parallels the much more-used January-through-December calendar.
This year’s lunar reset, the Year of the Rooster in the Chinese zodiac, starts Jan. 28. And outside of Asia, California is one of the best places to get in on the festivities – no surprise given the state’s large Asian communities.
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Sacramento has its own storied Chinese New Year and Tet celebrations, but the region’s biggest bashes take place in the Bay Area. San Francisco’s Feb. 11 Chinese New Year festival and parade is the country’s most famous, and it doesn’t disappoint with its 268-person “Golden Dragon” dance line, flower festival, Miss Chinatown USA contest and, of course, ear-punishing firecrackers. The parade starts at 5:15 p.m. at Second and Market streets, winds around Chinatown and ends at Columbus Avenue and Kearny Street.
Fresno will throw its own Chinese New Year party at 7 p.m. Feb. 17 at the Warnors Theatre (1400 Fulton St., 559-264-2868), with lots of traditional Chinese music, dancing and martial arts.
The region’s biggest Tet celebration comes to the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds, where South Bay Vietnamese and others eat and drink along to nonstop pop music performances. There’ll also be life-size replicas of traditional Vietnamese villages along with all the noodles and sandwiches you can eat. Tickets cost $10 at the door for all ages, with a limited number available for $6.50 online at Goldstar. This year’s event runs from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Jan. 28 and 29. Organizers expect the turnout to at least match the 10,000 people who showed up last year.
If you find yourself in Southern California during the Jan. 28-29 weekend, even bigger celebrations await, including one in the venerable Chinese American suburb of Monterey Park and at the OC Fair & Event Center, where the Union of Vietnamese Student Associations throws what it bills as the world’s biggest Tet festival.
Snowboard and ski competition
What: The U.S. Freeski and Snowboarding Grand Prix features half pipe and slope competitions.
When: Hours vary between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday, Jan. 30, through Saturday, Feb. 4.
Where: Main Lodge sundeck, 1 Minaret Road
Cost: Free to observe
Indie film festival
What: Catch short films and documentaries at the San Francisco Independent Film Festival.
When: Showtimes vary; festival runs Thursday, Feb. 2, through Thursday, Feb. 16
Where: Various locations throughout San Francisco, including the Roxie Theatre (3117 16th St.)
Cost: $14 general admission; $30 day pass; $200 all-access pass
What: Pismo Beach is home to thousands of Monarch butterflies that hang out in eucalyptus and pine trees. Enjoy educational talks and butterfly watching in celebration of California Monarch Day.
When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 4
Where: Pismo State Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove just off Highway 1