In 1847, San Francisco was a sleepy little village known as Yerba Buena with a population of 459. With the discovery of gold and the ensuing California Gold Rush, by 1849, over 50,000 people had come to San Francisco to seek their fortune or just a better way of life. Among those were many Chinese, who had come to work in the gold mines and on the railroad. By the 1860’s, the Chinese were eager to share their culture with those who were unfamiliar with it. They chose to showcase their culture by using a favorite American tradition – the Parade. Nothing like it had ever been done in their native China. They invited a variety of other groups from the city to participate, and they marched down what today are Grant Avenue and Kearny Street carrying colorful flags, banners, lanterns, and drums and firecrackers to drive away evil spirits.
Since 1958, the Parade has been under the direction of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce. At that time, it was moved from the afternoon to the evening so as not to compete with the very popular Miss Chinatown U.S.A. contest. The Parade remained a local community activity along Grant Avenue until the mid 1970’s, when the fire department and ever growing crowds dictated that the Parade route be moved to wider streets.
When KTVU, Channel 2, started televising the Parade in 1987, the Chinese Chamber of Commerce realized that although the Parade would still represent the community, its growth would demand a commitment to higher quality and corporate sponsorship involvement. The Chinese New Year celebration was expanded to a two week Festival including a Flower Market Fair and Community Fair.
Today, the San Francisco Chinese New Year Festival and Parade is the largest celebration of its kind in the world, attracting over three million spectators and television viewers throughout the U.S., Canada, and Asia with the help of both KTVU/Fox 2 and KTSF, Channel 26 (Chinese broadcast).
The parade still welcomes a variety of other groups to join in the march, and still hopes to educate, enrich and entertain its audience with the colorful pageantry of Chinese culture and tradition. In order to retain the integrity of the Parade, participants are asked to tie their float or specialty unit to a Chinese cultural theme. We are honored and delighted to have representatives from other Asian cultures participating in this year’s festivities.