Ring in the Chinese New Year in Boston’s Chinatown

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Posted January 31, 2014 by Cheryl Fenton in General
Be sure to be there for the famous Lion Dance Parade in Chinatown.

It’s actually a cruel joke that the upcoming Chinese New Year celebration is called the Spring Festival in China. Although the Chinese may be marking the beginning of warmer weather over there, here in Boston, we are obviously not. That doesn’t mean we can’t join along in the festivities, though! With the third largest Chinese community in the country, our Chinatown is ready to party. Or, should I say, horse around.

As we enter the Year of the Horse on January 31, there are quite a few ways to get involved in the Chinese New Year in Boston. First off, get in the spirit and discover your sign. Similar to the zodiac that keeps us Westerners intrigued as we receive our daily horoscope, the Chinese zodiac has 12 signs based on your birth year. Each sign corresponds to animals instead of astrological symbols. So, put down your bow, Sagittarius, and find out if your animal’s personality characteristics accurately represent you.

Once you hit the streets of Chinatown to celebrate the Chinese New Year in downtown Boston, you’ll have no problem figuring out where the festivities are. Just move in the direction of the drums, gongs, and cymbals. And the smoke. People hoping to ward off evil spirits set off a ton of street fireworks and poppers.

Eventually, you’ll encounter the Lion Dance Parade, a thousands-year-old tradition that marks the new year. Boston’s version is being held from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Sunday, February 9. Join the crowd lining the streets as the procession of brightly colored flags and banners accompany costumed dancers. These nimble performers show off their martial arts skills as they whirl their way through the streets, with a two-person “lion” prowling behind. Prowling would imply it’s quiet, though. There’s nothing quiet about this festive feline. Every movement is punctuated with cymbals as its shakes, sprawls, rolls, and dances from door to door, driving away evil spirits with every shimmy.

Although the lion is quite the sight, you’ll probably be distracted by the random heads of cabbages, oranges, and cups of tea placed outside the doorway of each business. Pay no mind—those snacks aren’t for you. They’re to satisfy the hungry lion as it makes its way to each site, “eating” its offerings to ensure good tidings for the New Year.

Enjoy traditional New Year dim sum dumplings and noodles.

Local restaurants happily heap your plate with traditional New Year food such as dumplings and noodles. Photo Credit: Matteo J.K. Mihn

Once you’ve had enough dancing for one day, it’s your turn to snack. There are tons of places to grab traditional Chinese New Year dishes such as dumplings, noodles, and smoked meats. One of the more well-known places is China Pearl, but a word to the hungry—this place gets packed. However, since the restaurant is massive, the line can move pretty quickly.

Once you’re inside, you’ll be seated and bombarded by women with food carts full of lotus leaves, steamed dumplings, pork buns, rolled rice noodles dripping with sweet soy sauce, and yes, even fried steamed chicken feet. You don’t have to eat that last one. I don’t.

Also check out Chau Chow City, East Ocean City and Hei La Moon as popular hot spots to celebrate, but don’t discount the random corner spots to pop in for some tea. Wherever you go, you can’t go wrong if you end up with a sweet yellow custard bun.

On your way back from chowing city, stop at a herbal shop such as Nam Bac Hong and get some fresh or dried herbs. This tiny shop nestled on Harrison Ave. in Chinatown might be intimidating because nothing seems to be in English, but be bold and give it a try.

With all these special celebrations in Chinatown, it’s almost easy to forget that this isn’t really the start of spring. But, it could be the start of a great new year.

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