Tag Archives: holidays

Chinese New Year Parade: a colorful cavalcade through downtown SF

When I arrived in San Francisco, one of the first things I noticed was the huge Chinese community. In my home country–France, Chinese people represent a very small part of the population, but here in San Francisco, they form the biggest immigrant community. Chinese-Americans represent more than 21% of the city’s population. Chinese culture was so foreign to me; all I knew about it was dragon puppets and sticky rice! Naturally, I was very curious to learn more, so one day I decided to visit Chinatown.

Sentinel building. Photo by Laura Damase

Sentinel building. Photo by Laura Damase

Located right in the heart of downtown and covering 1.34 square miles, this area is an important part of San Francisco. In fact, it is the largest Chinatown outside Asia, and the oldest in North America. When I ventured to Bush and Grant streets, I found the grand entrance to this famous neighborhood. I walked through its lovely gate, which is the only authentic Chinatown Gate in North America. Upon entering, I was surrounded by indecipherable Chinese characters, small stores, typical tiny restaurants and stalls selling fruits I didn’t even know existed. Behind their little windows, bakeries offered the best prices on fortune cookies–my favorite! This day, I literally felt transported to a land that is over 6000 miles away from the City by the Bay. Afterward, I realized that was nothing compared to what I was going to see later during my stay in this incredibly diverse city.

Food vendors on the street. Photo by Laura Damase

Indeed a few weeks later, I read on the Chinatown website, “Saturday February 15,Th 5pm, Union SquareThe Chinese New Year Parade will go from Market Street to Powell, then Kearny to Colombus. “What is that?” I wondered. I had no idea what to expect, but reading that people were coming from all over the world for this celebration, I really didn’t want to miss it.  Nowadays the parade is a major annual event in the Bay Area. The parade began more than 150 years ago to when the first Chinese immigrants arrived here in 1848. At that time, the California Gold Rush attracted a mass of Chinese people to the area to work as gold-miners. The parade quickly became a way for them to celebrate and share their culture.

UC Davis Marching Band at the Chinese New Year Parade. Photo by Laura Damase

UC Davis Marching Band at the Chinese New Year Parade. Photo by Laura Damase

On the day of the event, I arrived just on time, right when the first loud firecrackers were lighted to announce the celebrations launching at Union Square. A vast crowd was already gathered and I understood that being on time only means accepting to stand behind people who arrived hours in advance. As soon as the first trumpets sounded, the processions began without interruption. From the beautiful dancing girls to martial arts groups, the parade was so varied! It included stilt walkers, boy scouts and church groups, all smiling and holding huge flags, wearing costumes and uniforms. I also saw glimmering classic convertibles with politicians who greeted people and waved while passing the crowd. High school bands marched down the street, preceded by big banners announcing their arrival,  as well as lion dancers and acrobats.  Suddenly, loads of floats passed in front of us, all impressively decorated with glittering paillettes,  painted flags and with amazing imagery of dragons, every single detail of the floats was resplendent. Some floats were quite long, beautiful and moved slowly. Other floats carried wonderful women who posed like movie stars in their incredibly refined dresses—they looked perfect! I noticed a common theme among the handmade paintings and statues that decorated the floats . . . horses! Everywhere, of all sizes, all shapes, all poses imaginable, horses. Why? Well, in China, the horse is the symbol for 2014. In fact, this animal is a part of the 12-year-cycle of animals in the Chinese zodiac, which is also associated with one of the five elements. 2014 is the year of wooden horse, which in Chinese culture means good luck and prosperity. The wooden horse, also, should make people who are born this year more likely to be energetic, bright and intelligent.

2014 is the year of the wooden horse. Photo by Laura Damase

2014 is the year of the wooden horse. Photo by Laura Damase

But let’s go back to the parade! A few minutes past 8pm, the dragon I was anticipating finally arrived. With a big head and long red and yellow tail, it was even more impressive than what I was expecting. When I saw it emerge from the well-known Sentinel building corner, I imagined it was going to be very long. In fact, I had the feeling it was just never-ending. Like a snake, it twirled from one side of the street to the other, in a crazy dance.  At this point, the parade truly looked like it may never end; a whirl of participants continued to walk in front of us. The parade proved to be amazingly diverse with more than 100 groups marching. After the dragon, the cutest part came: kindergarteners! Riding in wagons or proudly walking, they were wearing traditional makeup on their eyes and very sophisticated outfits. Some of them were dressed in traditional silky red tunics trimmed in black, with thin belts tightened around their waists. Other kids wore a very traditional Chinese outfit, called a Hanfus, which is also red, but with many other different colors! Their outfits boasted shiny beads and lovely embroideries that formed gorgeous geometrical patterns. The color gradients in the patterns were so elaborate that they almost looked unreal. Right above those pretty ensembles, their sweet little faces were capped by Phoenix crowns–colorful hats covered by stones and strands of beads.


Kids participating in the parade. Photo by Laura Damase

Kids participating in the parade. Photo by Laura Damase

On my way back, I finally realized how big the event actually was: hundreds of pedestrians were walking around the closed streets, holding balloons or sparklers. In fact, almost 1 million people were celebrating the Chinese New Year in San Francisco on this Saturday . . . and it doesn’t include those who watched it on TV!

Europe’s Best Christmas Markets

Christmas markets have a long history in many of Europe’s leading cities and are popular attractions for locals and tourists alike during the holiday season. Traditionally held during the four weeks of Advent, these markets often celebrate the holidays with a piping hot mug of mulled wine and a hefty scoop of Christmas magic.

Christmas at Liseburg, photo by Mikael Miettinen, CC by 2.0


Salzburger ChristkindlmarktSalzburg

November 17 to December 26, 2011

This lovely annual Christmas market takes place in the heart of Salzburg in Residenzplatz and has been going on for nearly 500 years! Salzburg is home to more than just The Sound of Music and Mozartkugel, its charming medieval architecture, snowy hills and panoramas from the Hohensalzburg Castle. Visitors enjoy strolling the vendors, hearing live choir music and viewing a live Nativity. This is one of the few markets that is actually open on December 25, so if you are looking for something to do on Christmas Day, this is the place!


Bruges Christmas MarketBruges

November 25, 2011 to January 3, 2012

If you enjoy Christmas markets and ice skating, get your skates in gear for Bruges’ Christmas Market. Held in the beautiful historic center of the city in the Markt, this market offers traditional little chalets selling snacks, trinkets and, of course, delicious Belgian beers! Don’t forget to try the delicious specualoos, which are a Dutch-style of gingerbread.


Lille Christmas MarketLille

November 19 to December 30, 2011

A quick 30 minutes from Brussels or 90 minutes from London can get you to Lille! Held in place Rihour, this market is easily located in walking distance of Lille’s main train station, making this an ideal outing if you find yourself in one of northern Europe’s loveliest cities.



November 25 to December 24, 2011

One of Germany’s most famous holiday fairs, the Nuremburg Christmas Market has often been used as a model for Christmas markets around the world. The market opens with an elaborate ceremony every year on the Friday before the first Sunday of Advent, and often features local school choirs and a visit from the Nuremburg Christmas Angel. This massive fair has just about every food, drink or craft you could possibly want, including gingerbread, pastries, mulled wine and a large variety of glassworks and porcelain. Other events include church services, city tours and musical programs.


Budapest Christmas FairBudapest

November 18 to December 30, 2011

Considered one of the best Christmas fairs in Europe, the Budapest Christmas Fair features some of the most talented artisans and craftsmen in the country. Have a cup of mulled wine in a souvenir “Budapest” cup as you peruse the stalls. For many, however, the main attraction is the food. The traditional Hungarian dishes include sausage, grilled meats and kürtőskalács, a cone-shaped filled pastry. Evening entertainment includes musical performances and the Nativity play.


Docklands Christmas MarketDublin

December 8 to December 24, 2011

The Christmas Market at the Dublin Docklands takes a more pan-European approach to the holidays. Visitors can treat themselves to traditional mulled wine, a wide selection of pastries from all over the continent and wander through the merchant stalls. The dockside location lends a magical atmosphere to the market as the sun sets and the lights’ glow illuminates the water. The lovingly restored “Galloping Horses” Carousel, fairground attractions and carol singers provide hours of family entertainment.


Heidelberg MarketFlorence

December 1 – 21, 2011

Held in Florence’s piazza di Santa Croce, this market in the heart of the city features vendors primarily from Germany, France and some Italian vendors. There are many crafts on hand (sweaters, trinkets, toys) as well as German wurst with mustard and a mug of Glühwein (mulled wine).


The Christmas Market in the Velvet Cave – Valkenburg aan de Geul

November 18 to December 23, 2011

A visit to the Valkenburg Christmas Market is a unique experience. One of the largest and oldest underground Christmas markets in Europe, the market is housed in a series of caves decked out to look like everyone’s Christmas fantasy come true. Visit Santa’s home in the Velvet Caves, ogle his room of presents and admire his bedroom. Children will delight in seeing his sleigh and reindeer. With endless stalls brimming with crafts and food, a visit to this subterranean bazaar will surely be one to remember.


Christmas Market at SpikersuppaOslo

November 24 to December 20, 2011

Christmas time in Oslo is enough to make even the most jaded of us believe in Santa again. The lights that cover the trees in the market and the fanciful design of the tents bring to mind childhood ideals of the perfect holiday. The Christmas Market at Spikersuppa is filled with potential presents and Norwegian delicacies, most of which involve elk. Grab a warm cup of gløgg, nibble on some pepperkake and revel in the holiday spirit.


Santa Llúcia Christmas MarketBarcelona

November 26 to December 22, 2011

This Barcelona market dates back to 1786 and has become synonymous with the traditional Catalan Christmas. Generally, the fair is divided into four sections. The Nativity Scenes and Figures area offers both displays of Nativity scenes and sells accessories for customers who would like to construct their own. The Greenery and Plants section sells both real and faux trees. The Crafts area is filled with local artisans peddling their wares. The Simbombes section supplies every type of musical instrument you could possibly want for your symphonic Christmas celebration.


Christmas at LisebergGothenburg

November 18 to December 23, 2011

The holiday season at one of the largest amusement parks in Scandinavia is a sight to behold. Lit by nearly five million lights, visitors can experience a traditional Swedish Christmas. The park’s many restaurants also offer traditional local holiday dishes, including a buffet inspired by Sweden’s west coast. Every Sunday, enjoy sing-alongs with some of the country’s favorite vocalists and be sure to take the children to see Father Christmas!

United Kingdom

Traditional German Christmas MarketEdinburgh

November 24 to December 24, 2011

Germany comes to Scotland for the holidays at the annual Traditional German Christmas Market in Edinburgh. Put on by Frankfurt-based merchants in Princes Street Gardens, the multitude of stalls selling German hand-crafts is perfect for those searching for unique gifts. The food, of course, is not to be missed, with German delicacies like grilled sausages, fried potato cakes, pork sandwiches and glühwein, a traditional German mulled wine.