San Francisco's Year of the Rat festivities kick off today

Watching the stilt walkers, decorated floats and 201-foot-long Golden Dragon “Gum Lung” parade down San Francisco's Kearny Street on Feb. 23 might be the ultimate Chinese New Year experience, but there's much more in store before then — 15 days of citywide festivities that kick off today.

From now until Feb. 24, the Chinese New Year Carnival in San Francisco's Chinatown will be held from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily on Walter U. Lum Place between Washington and Clay streets.

Other events include the Miss Chinatown U.S.A. Pageant on Feb. 16 at the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre at 3301 Lyon St.; a 5K/10K run through the areas of Chinatown, Fisherman's Wharf and Fort Mason on Feb. 17; and the Southwest Airlines Chinese New Year Parade downtown Feb. 23.

The Chinese New Year is one of the most important holidays in Chinese culture. The holiday festival is celebrated on the first day of the first moon of the lunar calendar and ends on the 15th day with the Lantern Festival, traditionally marked by an evening parade with lanterns and a dragon dance, according to the Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco.

This Chinese New Year marks the beginning of the Year of the Rat, the first of 12 years in the zodiac calendar. People born in the Year of the Rat include those born in 1912, 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, and 2008. People born in the Year of the Rat are traditionally believed to be charming, hard-working perfectionists who are thrifty with money, ambitious, and easily angered, the Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco's Web site states.

Bleacher tickets for the city's most colorful parade are available by calling (415) 986-1370 or (415) 982-3000 or online at www.chineseparade.com. The Web site also lists additional Chinese New Year events upcoming in San Francisco.

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