Chinese New Year Celebrations Kick Off Year Of The Rabbit

Chinese-Americans and Asians worldwide are celebrating the Lunar New Year. Across the U.S, the year of the Rabbit is being ushered in with cultural festivities that run through the end of the month. Arnold Chin, director of the country's largest Chinese New Year Parade in San Francisco, talks about how the most important date on the Chinese calendar is celebrated here, and in China.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

Happy New Year. We're six weeks into 2011 you say. But Chinese-Americans and actually, Asians around the globe or people of Asian heritage around the globe are celebrating New Year's this week. The Lunar New Year celebration began last Friday. It is the most important date on the Chinese calendar and the New Year celebrations run through the end of the month.

Arnold Chin is the director of the largest Chinese New Year parade in the U.S. in San Francisco. He was kind enough to take a break from his very busy schedule at this time of year to tell us how the Spring Festival is celebrated here in the U.S.

Happy New Year to you. Thank you for joining us.

Mr. ARNOLD CHIN (Director, Chinese New Year Parade): (Foreign language spoken) Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: Well, paint a picture for us, if you would, for people who've never seen or experienced, and I do recognize that Chinese New Year is like Belgian waffles, I mean nobody really, you know, says that, it's not. But tell us a little bit about how these celebrations are experienced.

Mr. CHIN: Well, I think it's one, in person, two, on television and three, on the Web. I think it is very important to understand that Lunar New Year is celebrated throughout Asia and it's filled with color, pageantry and families and children.

MARTIN: How different would it be here than for example, if we were happen to be in China right about now? What would we do differently here than we'd be experiencing in China, for example?

Mr. CHIN: Well, in China, generally, holidays such as Lunar New Year, which is typically called the Spring Festival, is celebrated by people taking up to two weeks off from work. Factories close. Offices close. Businesses and government offices close for up to a week and people spend time at their home villages and cities.

MARTIN: And I understand that there are a lot of traditions associated with Lunar New Year. For example, I'm thinking the sweeping of the grounds. What's that about?

Mr. CHIN: Well, generally, on New Years Eve everybody cleans their home - that is to take out all the bad spirits that may have accumulated throughout the year within the home and it ushers in the New Year, which is the following day.

MARTIN: And then there's everybody's birthday, which is tomorrow. Tell us about that.

Mr. CHIN: Well, February 10th or seven days after that New Years Day, which this year occurred on February 3rd, is a celebration of everybody's birthday. It is called Yan Yat, which is literally translated to mean people's day, and so everybody's birthday is celebrated. So it's an opportunity when everybody is at home to celebrate everybody's birthday because everybody has busy schedules and works maybe, as in China, in different parts of the country.

MARTIN: Well, tell us about the parade. Of course, I think many people will at least have seen at least pictures of the parade and the Golden Dragon. Tell us about it.

Mr. CHIN: Well, the parade is very unique. It's been in existence for approximately 160 years. It was celebrated typically in the early years as a small parade in the heart of Chinatown. Now it has expanded to cover about approximately two and a half miles, and it is filled with school kids in colorful costumes, bands, Lion Dancing and Golden Dragon. We just inaugurated a new dragon, which is 268 feet long and that is a culmination of the parade and it's rightfully called the Golden Dragon.

MARTIN: And how many people does it take to carry this dragon through the parade?

Mr. CHIN: Well, we have a team of approximately 100 that's under the dragon and we have changeover crews that parade with the dragon, and that's another 100, 120 people.

MARTIN: A hundred and twenty people to carry a dragon?

Mr. CHIN: Yes.

MARTIN: That's a big dragon. That is a fierce dragon. So, Mr. Chin, thank you for joining us. What's your favorite part, if you don't mind my asking, of Lunar New Year celebrations?

Mr. CHIN: Well, the, I believe that it's the entire celebration, which runs the gamut of approximately 22 to 23 days. It's for me, the day after is the best for me because I can sit back and look at all the TV clippings and webcasts and say hey, we did a great job and we've educated our community as well as the country and the world stage about how Lunar New Year is celebrated in San Francisco.

MARTIN: Well, congratulations to you. Happy New Year once again. Thank you so much for joining us.

Mr. CHIN: Thank you.

MARTIN: Arnold Chin is the festival and parade director for the Chinese Chamber of Commerce in San Francisco. He manages the country's biggest Chinese New Year's Parade and it's considered probably the biggest parade outside of Asia, close to a million spectators.

Thank you so much for joining us.

Mr. CHIN: Thank you.

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