Gung Hay Fat Choy! Welcome to the Year of the Rabbit
Updated: Jan 5
Gentle, quiet, sedate. Supposedly, these are the traits of people born in the year of the rabbit. But when it comes to Mom, nothing can be further from the truth. My 83-year-old mother, born in 1939, is as energetic and vocal as they come, full of opinions, full of advice doled out whether you like it or not. She is part of a colony of famous rabbits including Albert Einstein, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Frank Sinatra, and basketball great Michael Jordan.
Last year’s tiger personality would suit her better, but we all agree bunnies are incredibly cute, and according to Chinese lore, the zodiac animal is a symbol of longevity, peace, and prosperity. The year of the rabbit is predicted to be a year of hope. Those born in 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011, and 2023, are considered elegant, quick, skillful, kind, patient, and thoroughly responsible. Rabbits are also known as relentlessly faithful.
Chinese New Year begins with a huge family feast celebration on New Year’s Eve; this year it comes early on Saturday, January 21. During these clan gatherings, cash-filled red envelopes called hung bao are handed to children, nieces, nephews, and single adults. Families will either feast at home or go out to eat. Chinese restaurants around the Bay Area usually promote Chinese New Year banquet menus which most likely offer a whole chicken with head and tail for completeness and an entire fish to represent wealth.
There are 16 official days to honor the new year, starting on January 22 and ending on February 6, the day of the Lantern Festival. Other special days fall within this timeframe, notably Son-in-Law day on February 1 where fathers are to treat son-in-laws to a meal or special activity.
In Asia, businesses are closed from January 21 to January 27. People often travel to pay homage to immediate family, friends, and relatives, bearing oranges, tangerines, flowers, and candy representing prosperity, good fortune, and good luck for the upcoming year.
In San Francisco, all are encouraged to participate in festivities. Starting January 7 until February , five large, rabbit statues will be on display throughout the city until February 5, each hand painted by local artists. Meanwhile, Chinatown streets are going to be festooned with lanterns and banners. Windows and doors will be decorated with auspicious Chinese proverbs in gold lettering. Bakeries sell “neen goh” a savory steamed cake which signifies rising higher.
The most exciting time to visit this neighborhood is this winter. On January 14 and 15, Chinatown will host its annual Flower Market Street Fair, a prelude to Chinese New Year where folks can purchase oranges and tangerines with the stems on, plus flowers of blessing such as pussy willows, orchids, and red gladiolas. On hand will be Chinatown vendors touting souvenirs and favorite street foods.
Then on Saturday, February 4, precisely at 5:15 p.m., attendees willing to stand in the cold or sit in ticketed bleacher seats can observe the world’s largest Chinese New Year Parade which will be televised. Starting from Second and Market Streets and ending on Kearny and Washington, the 2.5 hour, historic parade in Chinatown will feature a cast of hundreds including stilt walkers, musicians, marching bands, lion dancers, costumed school children, civic leaders, and more. Miss Chinatown U.S.A and her court will be waving to crowds as they perch atop a float while firecrackers explode in the distance. The grand finale is typically the golden dragon, measuring 268 feet long, its body carried by an entourage of skilled martial arts performers.
During the weekend of February 4 and 5, some 120 booths are slated for the Chinatown Community Street Fair where vendors will be selling everything from steamed pork buns to massage chairs. Musical performances, dragon dances, children’s activities, and free give-aways will also be exciting the crowds.
Planning to attend? Mark your calendars, figure out your mode of transportation, and start practicing the Chinese New Year greeting, “Gung hay fat choy!”
For more details on the Chinese New Year parade, see www.chineseparade.com.