How You Too Can (Accidentally) Celebrate at the Chinese Lunar New Year Parade in NYC 20

“Meddle not in the affairs of dragons, for you art crunchy and good with ketchup.” ― Unknown

Yes, YOU Can (accidentally) Celebrate The Chinese Lunar New Year!

According to Chinese, those born in the year of the dragon “prefer to live by their own rules and if left on their own, are usually successful. They’re driven, unafraid of challenges, and willing to take risks. They’re passionate in all they do and they do things in grand fashion.” Sound familiar, travel lovers?

Okay, so we weren’t all born in the year of the dragon. I, for one, was born in the year of the dog (probably why I have to roll around about 16 times, before I go to sleep every night, trying to get comfortable). However, we travelers seem to share quite a few of those  dragon traits. We boldly set out on our adventures. We weigh the risks against the end-game of embracing new settings and cultures. We are passionate about seeing anything and everything there is to be seen in this crazy world.  And, really, with their glistening fangs, napalm-breath and glittering Technicolor scales…what’s not to love about dragons?

But, wait, there’s more!

What if I told you there is a place where nearly fluorescing dragons (adorned in feathers, dripping in pom-poms & sequins and bearded in rainbows of ribbon) dance in the streets?

Holy Cow! There's Confetti Too?

Holy Cow! There’s Confetti Too???

Mind, blown.

I’ve read that the Chinese sometimes refer to themselves as the descendants of the dragon. This belief is deeply rooted in their culture and society. Unlike European mythology, where dragons were feared as malevolent beings, the Chinese celebrate the creature’s benevolence. The original dragon king was said to have borne nine sons (though this seems like more of a job for his dragon queen):

  • Bi Xi: who could carry heavy things (handy)
  • Chi Wen: known for bearing the blessing of rainfall (hot showers for everyone!)
  • Pu Lao: with his fondness for roaring (always cool)
  • Bi An: had the ability to impartially decipher truth from lies (useful with teenagers in the home)
  • Tao Tie: who (like me) loved to eat and is said, via his image, to always provide food for your table
  • Gong Fu: can prevent water disasters (surf’s up, dude, but not too up!)
  • Ya Zi: Excelled in battle and makes weapons more effective (*sharpens sword*)
  • San Mi: Dragon of fire and smoke; his image is used for protection and is rumored to make your children more attractive. (Huh?)
  • Qiu Niu: Patron of musicians and their instruments (*metal horns*)

Now, picture it. It’s a frigid Sunday at the end of January, 2012; The Year of the Dragon. You and <—insert “bestie” or significant partner-type other here–> were up with the sun Saturday morning, drove four and half caffeine-fueled hours into NYC and found cheap parking (a feat, on its own). You got a great deal on an inexpensive hotel, ran around the city until your feet bled, collapsed into bed and woke up with, what may or may not be, a very slight hangover from that rockabilly bar you found in Brooklyn. You wipe those crusty bits from your eyes, drink roughly four gallons of coffee and hop the 6 train to Canal St. Your plan is to briskly walk up a few blocks (refusing knock-off handbags and imitation Rolex, all the way), maybe to Mott Street, for some crispy duck, dumplings or hot tea. When, BAM, you walk straight into…dragons!

“But it is one thing to read about dragons and another to meet them.”― Ursula K. Le Guin, A Wizard of Earthsea

I live for moments like this.

New York just does this. Lots of places do this, actually (which is why I love to travel) but I’ve been to NYC a dozen times and it never fails to tip me on my ear. Sure, I knew about the parade’s existence and it seemed like a fun thing to do someday but here was someday standing before us in all its drumming, confetti-popping, cymbal-clashing, delightfully overcrowded glory!

And the parade hadn’t even begun yet!

"Fish are friends, not food"-Finding Nemo

“Fish are friends, not food”-Finding Nemo

Step 1, when (accidentally) celebrating at the Chinese Lunar New Year Parade:

Be sure to set up a base camp– preferably away from tables filled with dead fish (which was impossible, in this particular case). If you’ve never been to Chinatown, markets set up tables of fish, exotic produce/herbs and collectibles all along the sidewalks. It can be colorful, affordable and quite odoriferous*. The crowds are intense and everyone is shoving for room so, stand your ground with that trusty camera, and have a plan to meet up with your loved ones, in case you lose sight of one another.

Step 2, when (accidentally) celebrating at the Chinese Lunar New Year Parade:

Enjoy the crowd!

As dragons, dancers, floats and other performers begin to assemble on the parade route, the crowds get excited. Little faces light up. Flags wave. Drums begin to beat and cabbages, symbolizing fortune, are dangled on sticks above the “hungry” dragons.

Step 3, when (accidentally) celebrating at the Chinese Lunar New Year Parade:

Enjoy the floats!

As the parade begins, floats representing various businesses and causes roll by, featuring costumed performers of all kinds. Confetti poppers explode and music fills the air.

Step 4, when (accidentally) celebrating at the Chinese Lunar New Year Parade:

Enjoy the performers!

Belly dancers, masked children, fan dancers, musicians and more entertain & delight the crowd!

Step 5, when (accidentally) celebrating at the Chinese Lunar New Year Parade:

Dance with dragons! You may not get another chance ;P

 Close enough to touch, dragons march & dance up the parade route and along the crowd.

Yes, I think we all have a little of the dragon in us. We should set him free to roam, roar and share his blessings with the world! And, in that, we receive the gift of priceless memories & stories to share. That, my friends, is true fortune.

What would you add?

These are my experiences at the Chinese Lunar New Year Parade – I’d love to hear yours!

Have you been to the parade? Or one like it?

What were your experiences?

Do you have an interesting story to add or tips for day trippers & travelers who may want to go?

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The Caffeinated Day Tripper


Until next time, keep making those plans and finding your path.

Erin Jorgensen, The Caffeinated Day Tripper

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*Odoriferous, a more melodious term for STANKY!

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