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Chinese New Year festivities in San Francisco culminate in century-and-a-half old parade

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Lion dancers perform in the streets during the annual Chinese New Year Parade in San Francisco on Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018. (Ekevara Kitpowsong/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Marching bands, dragon dancers, elaborate floats and hundreds of thousands of people took over the streets of downtown San Francisco on Saturday evening for The City’s annual Southwest Airlines Chinese New Year Parade.

Said to be the largest Chinese New Year Parade outside of Asia, the tradition dates back to the 1860’s in San Francisco. The event was started as a way to “educate the community about their culture” and has seen participation grow annually, according to its organizers.

Ahead of the parade, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency reported road closures from Market and Second streets to Pacific and Kearny streets, and multiple bus lines were rerouted.

The parade began just after 5 p.m., when over 100 performing groups marched and danced on Market Street towards Geary Street, before passing Union Square onto Post Street. The procession moved along Kearny Street on the outskirts of The City’s Chinatown, where fireworks and ceremonial firecrackers are traditionally set off.

A special guest to this year’s parade was action film star Michelle Yeoh, who recently appeared in “Star Trek: Discovery.” The  “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” actress served as grand Marshal of this year’s parade, which also featured Gum Lung, a brand new, 288-foot Golden Dragon structure carried in the procession by some 180 martial artists.

Among the performing groups were 28 students from Commodore Sloat Elementary School who after, some 12 rehearsals, danced in the parade. Clad in dog costumes, the students paid homage to the Chinese zodiac, which consists of 12 zodiac signs and is dependent on a 12-year cycle.  According to this count, the Chinese community celebrated the start of the Year of the Dog on Feb. 16.

“It’s supposed to be a year when we have special strengths,” said Alan Hou, who is from China and participated in San Francisco’s parade for the first time this year, about those born in the current zodiac.

If that is true, then East Bay resident Jack O’Neal is in luck — the 12-year-old was born in the Year of Dog.

O’Neal, along with his parents and sister, watched the procession wind along Kearny Street.

“My family lived in Hong Kong when I was a kid, so I grew up celebrating Chinese New Year even though we are not Chinese,” said O’Neal’s mother, Jen Komaromi. “When we moved to Sacramento, my mom would make peking duck and we would still celebrate every year.”

Hundreds of thousands of others braved chilly temperatures to participate in Saturday’s parade, which attracted observers from The City and beyond.

California State Senator Scott Wiener said that he left a Democratic Convention in San Diego early to participate in the parade.

“This is one of those really unique San Francisco cultural events and it speaks volumes to what this city is about — all communities coming together and embracing a rich diversity,” Wiener said. “Immigrants are under attack today. This event is really clear evidence of why immigrants are good for this country. They bring so much and this parade is just one visible example of that.“

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