Maybe it’s because our family likes learning about other cultures or simply because January and February are the most dreary winter months in our hometown of Chicago, but we are always excited when it’s time for the city’s Chinese New Year celebration.

THE CHINESE NEW YEAR HOLIDAY

The Chinese New Year holiday begins on the first day of the first month of the Chinese calendar and is determined by the date of the first new moon. It is also considered the first day of the Spring festival. The date of the Chinese New Year or Lunar New Year, as some refer to it, varies from year to year depending on the moon phases, but it always falls between January 21 and February 20.

The Chinese lunar calendar follows a 12-year cycle with each of the 12 years represented by one of the 12 animals, which form the Chinese Zodiac. After every 12 years, the Chinese calendar repeats itself.

Legend has it that Buddha summoned all the animals to come to him before he departed the Earth. Only 12 animals bid him farewell, so Buddha honored each of them with a year. The order was taken from the order the animals appeared to him. It is widely believed that a person takes on the characteristics of the animal belonging to the year they were born. In our family we have two Sheep/Goats, one Rooster and one Dog and those who know us claim there is some truth to that.

CHICAGO CHINATOWN

We are lucky to live in a city with not only a significant Chinese population, but also a great Chinatown on the south side. And while Chicago Chinatown may be not be as well-known as those in San Francisco or New York, it still ranks as one of the largest Chinatown areas in North America and is a very active community, proud of its remarkable cultural heritage and rich traditions.

Each year the Chicago Chinatown Chamber of Commerce and the Chicago Chinese Cultural Institute(CCCI) organize a number of exciting events in Chinatown and all over the city to celebrate the community’s biggest holiday, Chinese New Year, and promote the Chinese culture. This year, the festivities will start on February 15 and run through March 1, celebrating the Year of the Sheep (or Goat, depending on the source) and New Year 4713 according to the Chinese Lunar Calendar.

Whether you are in town on a visit or live in the greater Chicago area, I definitely recommend heading out to one or more of these fascinating and fun events. Make sure to wear red for good luck!

CHINESE NEW YEAR PARADE IN CHICAGO CHINATOWN

The most famous part of the Chicago Chinatown New Year celebration is of course the Chinese New Year parade, consisting of many floats, bands, outstanding lion dancers and, my personal favorite, a mighty 90-foot long mystical dragon. Exploding with color, sounds and great energy, the parade is quite a spectacle and definitely worth a visit to Chinatown.

CHICAGO CHINATOWN RESTAURANTS

After the parade and the traditional firecrackers going off on every corner, you must take advantage of the numerous Chicago Chinatown restaurants along the parade route, all with amazing authentic cuisine and many offering the traditional Chinese New Year dinner. One of our family’s favorites is Lao Sze Chuan, known for delighting their guests with surprise visits of the neighborhood’s roving lion dancers in addition to its delicious cuisine.

Another event I highly recommend is the Chinese New Year Dumpling Making Dinner, held at similarly well-known Chicago Chinatown restaurant, Hing Kee. Now in its 11th year and hosted by the CCII’s founder Z.J. Tong, the event is a great cultural experience.

Besides learning about centuries-old practice of making traditional Chinese dumplings, one of the staples in Chinese New Year dinner, you will learn fascinating facts about the Chinese New Year and some of the key traditions associated with it, many of which have been carried into the modern day. A delicious, authentic Chinese New Year dinner, captivating lion dancers which follow the class and, of course, red envelopes with a small surprise for the kids given out at the end of the meal, round out this great family experience.

A few things to note about the Chinese New Year celebration in Chicago:

  • There is usually very limited parking in the area due to the crowds and many streets are closed for the parade. I recommend taking public transportation (Red Line El train, exit at 22nd Street) or arriving extra early if you must drive.
  • Dining reservations for the day of the Chinese New Year parade fill up very quickly so make sure to reserve a spot as early as possible. The same is true for the Dumpling Making Dinner which sells out every year!
  • Hilton Chicago and Palmer House, a Hilton Hotel are located in downtown Chicago within two miles of Chicago Chinatown.

CHINESE NEW YEAR CELEBRATION IN UPTOWN CHICAGO

If you can’t make it to Chinatown, Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood on the north side of the city is home to a sizable Chinese and Vietnamese community which throws a Chinese New Year’s party every year. Beginning on Argyle Street, there is a Chinese New Year parade with lion dancers and dragons, and just like in Chinatown, you can count on plenty of firecrackers. For more details on specific times and the parade route, check out the Uptown community website.

OTHER WAYS TO CELEBRATE CHINESE NEW YEAR IN CHICAGO

There are many other ways to celebrate the Chinese New Year in Chicago or the greater area. This year, for example, the Chicago Botanic Gardens, located in the near-north suburbs, will be hosting special performances of the Chinese Puppet Theater as well as lessons in Chinese paper cutting and painting.

The Symphony Orchestra is putting on a special Sounds of China performance. There will be special celebratory light and sound displays on State Street. Even 360° Chicago (formerly the John Hancock observatory) is joining in celebration of Chinese New Year and Spring by helping their guests find their fortune for the New Year and displaying red lights for the duration of the Chinese New Year celebration in Chicago.

The Chinese New Year celebration ends on March 1 at the Chicago Navy Pier with the Chinese New Year Lantern Festival featuring dance, music and martial arts. There will also be several hands-on activities such as calligraphy and paper cutting lessons as well as lantern making.

Jíqìngyǒuyú — May your happiness be without limit  and Wànshìrúyì — May all your wishes be fulfilled  in the Year of the Sheep/Goat!

This article was originally published by Hilton Mom Voyage.

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