Here's what it's like to celebrate Chinese New Year in New York City

Every year, the Chinese New Year is celebrated for more than two weeks in January or February, with many festivals and celebrations commemorating the occasion. On the first day of the New Year, the festival kicks off with the Firecracker Ceremony, during which locals light nearly 600,000 rounds of fireworks.

Last Thursday, we headed down to New York City’s Chinatown to see the community’s 16th annual Firecracker Ceremony.

It is a tradition for Chinese people to light bamboo sticks filled with gunpowder on the first day of the year to create as large as commotion as possible. The practice is thought to ward off evil spirits. In more recent years, the tradition is carried on with firecrackers and fireworks. Thousands of firecrackers are strung up with red ribbon on the rope in the background.

The community performs the elaborate Firecracker Ceremony because fireworks are illegal in New York City. There were plenty of police on hand to make sure everything went smoothly.

The ceremony began with a speech by a community leader, who wished spectators “Gong Xi Fa Cai,” or Happy New Year in Mandarin.

There was a huge crowd for the ceremony despite the temperatures. It was a frigid 20 degrees Fahrenheit at the time of the ceremony.

After the opening speech, the emcee introduced the Brooklyn United Drumline marching band. They provided an energetic performance to start off the festivities.

Next came the traditional Chinese ribbon dance. Dancers perform by whirling long strips of silk attached to short sticks through the air.

The woman on the right was keeping time for the dancers with her cymbals.

The dance dates to China’s Han Dynasty in 206 BCE. It is thought that the dance originates from a man who saved an emperor from assassination by blocking a sword with the silk on his sleeve.

Next came the dragon dance. While not as elaborate or large as the dragons displayed during the Chinese New Year’s parade, these two were very acrobatic.

The two dragons dueled for a long time. It was an impressive dance.

No Chinese holiday would be complete without food. Volunteers gave out copious amounts of Chinese food to those willing to wait in line.

Many prominent community members were wearing red sashes. Red symbolizes good fortune and joy in Chinese culture. It is seen everywhere during New Year’s celebrations.

Many city politicians were in attendance to celebrate the New Year. On the left is a man dressed as Cai Shen, the Chinese god of wealth and prosperity.

A group of schoolchildren took turns singing the American national anthem and the Chinese national anthem.

A lion dance troupe performed a symbolic ritual next to celebrate the new year.

During the “cai qing,” or plucking the greens, ritual, the lions attempt to eat lettuce hung on a pole in front of them. The custom comes from the similar sounds of the words pluck (cǎi), vegetable (cài ), and fortune (cái). The lion “eats” the lettuce and spits it out in favour of the red envelope attached. During New Year’s celebrations, red envelopes are filled with money.

At the same time, the crowd shoots off large amounts of confetti in celebration.

There was a lot of confetti on the ground after the dance.

Finally, it was time for the actual firecrackers. The team in charge used this pyrotechnic firing system to start the festivities from a safe distance.

This is what it looked like when it started. The ribbons and ornaments at the top were lined with firecrackers.

The sound was deafening for those who were closest.

And here’s what it looked like near the end.

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