Tradition is one of those things I found stifling when I was younger, something I desperately needed to break free of. Being of mixed race meant having two sets of rules to adhere to. It meant being saddled by two laborious sets of obligations. I couldn’t wait until I didn’t have to be somewhere I didn’t want to be–I was young and had way cooler things to do, after all. (Cue the eye roll here.) But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve developed a renewed understanding and appreciation for it. Community becomes less about conforming and more about belonging.
Holidays are always a difficult time for those of us living away from our families. Dinner tables feel particularly empty, homes feel particularly quiet. For me, celebrating the Lunar New Year brings back a flood of childhood memories. We celebrated it with much fanfare in Malaysia–kids were off from school for several days, the sound of holiday music and firecrackers filled the air, and families opened their homes to friends and neighbors.
But luckily for me, New York City has a vibrant Chinese New Year celebration. As mentioned here, the city has multiple options for those looking to celebrate the holiday. The Lunar New Year Parade in Manhattan’s Chinatown is the most well-known, and draws a massive, diverse crowd each year. The parade includes marching bands, lion dance troupes and dancers from all facets of the New York City Chinese and Chinatown community. Among those represented in the parade are specialty groups like the New York City Chinese Qipao Association, regional associations like the Club of Great Guangzhou and groups with special bonds like Families with Children from China. Colorful parade floats make their way down the street. The excitement is palpable for participants and spectators alike.
If you’d like to witness this extravaganza for yourself, here are some helpful tips:
Know the parade route
Better Chinatown USA publishes a map of the route ahead of the parade every year, or you can find it on Google Maps on the day of. The route is long, so you have many opportunities to position yourself along its path. Just remember that the further along the route you are, the longer you have to wait for the parade to make its way to you. Note that street closures extend beyond the path so avoid driving at all costs. The main subways will get you there fastest, but expect high traffic and plan accordingly.
Pro Tip: If you’d like a unique perspective of the parade and you’re able to commit the time, consider applying to be a parade volunteer!
Get there early
For prime photo and viewing opportunities, get as close to the barricades as you can. Once the crowd forms the lines will be several people deep and movement will be restricted along the path. So find a good spot and stick to it! Remember that spectators count in the thousands, with travelers even coming from outside the city to enjoy the festivities. This year the crowd formed fairly late, with prime spots still available a half hour prior to the parade starting. But that was likely due to the intermittent rain, which brings us to…
Dress for the weather
You will be outside for the duration of the parade, which lasts for several hours and occurs rain or shine. Even in milder temperatures, being exposed to wind and rain over a prolonged period can be harsh. Avoid bulky bags, which might be searched. And keep your hands free so you can take great pics and set off those fun confetti cannons!
Pair it with:
There are countless options a stone’s throw away from the parade route–you’re in Chinatown after all! Dim sum is a great pre-parade option, and you have a host of Instagrammable desserts at your disposal. But Chinatown is also experiencing somewhat of a renaissance, offering diners a bevy of options besides Chinese food.
For a culinary treat before you head to the parade, pop in to Stephen Starr’s Le Coucou for a luxe brunch. Located just north of Canal Street on Lafayette, the French restaurant manages to be classy yet casual. The chandeliers are juxtaposed against exposed brick, and the white tablecloths are juxtaposed against the open kitchen. But let’s forget about the cozy interior and talk about the food. For brunch die-hards, there is an avocado toast here that will remind you there’s so much more to the dish than slapping some mashed avocado on a slice of toast. And for those who want dessert for brunch, you can’t go wrong with the Comme un clafoutis, which is a pancake that manages to be bready but still maintain a custard-like texture. Either way, you’ll be well-prepared for the excitement ahead.
138 Lafayette St
Mon-Fri 7:00 am-10:30 am
Sat and Sun 7:00 am-10:00 am
Mon-Fri 11:30 am-2:00 pm
Sat and Sun 11:00 am-2:00 pm
Mon-Sat 5:00 pm-11:00 pm
Sun 5:00 pm-10:00 pm
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