This post was written by Ryan Zhou, Main Street Launch’s Business Outreach Intern.
Lunar New Year (often referred to in the U.S. as “Chinese New Year”) is an annual 15-day festival occurring in late January or early February based on the traditional Chinese lunisolar calendar. It is one the most important festivals in Chinese culture as well as other East Asian countries, including Korea, Mongolia, and Vietnam. In 2019, the first day of the LNY falls on Tuesday, February 5th, denoting the arrival of Year of the Pig.
When people in the Bay Area think of Lunar New Year (LNY) festivities, Oakland might not be the first place that comes to their minds. It’s hard to blame them, though, considering San Francisco hosts one of the largest and oldest Lunar New Year celebrations in North America. However, there is no lack of LNY experiences in Oakland as the city is home to a huge Asian community and the country’s 4th largest Chinatown with history dating back to the 1850s. Compared to its tourist-filled counterpart across the Bay, Oakland Chinatown is more of a utilitarian showcase of Asian cultures and small businesses, where you can actually participate in the festival along with local residents.
To get into the festive spirit, you can attend a number of LNY events in Oakland. One of them is the Oakland Chinatown Lunar New Year Bazaar presented by the Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce. The two-day event features a street fair with vendors selling traditional New Year decorations, flowers, gifts, specialty foods, etc. Live cultural entertainment such as dragon dancing, lion dancing, martial arts, and music performances will also be available throughout the event. For more cultural experiences and family-friendly activities, you’re welcomed to join the Annual Lunar New Year Celebration hosted by the Oakland Asian Cultural Center or the 18th Lunar New Year Celebration at the Oakland Museum of California.
Just like the holiday season, LNY is the time of the year when people decorate their homes and visit their extended families and friends with gifts. Some of the most popular traditional ornaments include New Year banners with auspicious symbols and writings, red lanterns, and intricate paper cuttings. In Cantonese traditions, Kumquat trees and flowers, preferably cherry or plum blossoms, are also commonly used as New Year decorations because they are not only symbols of good fortune but also a treat for the senses. Oakland Chinatown has historically been a hub for New Year shopping, and you can easily find large selections of LNY supplies in Chinatown shops such as Chanco Houseware & Restaurant Supply, From the Heart Florist, and House of Fortune.
Food is an essential part of almost every family gathering, and the Lunar New Year’s Eve dinner is no exception. The annual so called “reunion dinner” for many Chinese folks is undoubtedly the highlight of the 15-day celebration as the once-a-year banquet often showcases the best dishes a Chinese household could offer. Rice cakes, specialty meats, and seafood are prominently featured in the Southern regions, while dumplings and noodles are popular among folks in Northern China. One particular food item that is customary to serve at the New Year’s Eve dinner is whole fish, the Chinese character of which (魚) shares the same pronunciation as 余 (yú), meaning abundance or surplus. Won Kee Supermarket is a great place to stock up on popular LNY foods such as mandarin oranges, snacks and candies, fresh seafood, specialty meats, and hot pot ingredients. For lovers of dumplings and noodles, Tao Yuen Pastry offers an impressive assortment of inexpensive to-go dim sum and other delicious quick bites. If you’re in the mood for authentic and tasty Cantonese food, Gum Kuo serves arguably the best roasted duck and BBQ pork in all of Oakland Chinatown.
What are your favorite Lunar New Year experiences? Share them with us on social media @shopoaklandnow, and we’ll see you in Oakland Chinatown!