Chinese community ushers in Year of the Ram

SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU) - Celebrations are underway for the Bay Area's large Chinese community.

Thursday is Chinese New Year, which is the most important holiday for the Chinese community. It will be Year of the Ram.

Chinese New Year is a celebration steeped with tradition, focusing on family, food and fortune.

Firecrackers exploded into the air at the close of the business day Wednesday in San Francisco Chinatown.

It's an act to ward off evil spirits in the New Year and usher in good fortune.

One merchant had a table with incense and food - a prayer with offerings for prosperity. Outside, shoppers made their last minute purchases.

"Just to take in the beginning of the New Year... just all the good vibe, good energy, and that's what I'm doing this for just feeling the people," said David Lowe, a Chinese American.

Just steps from the commotion, hundreds of patrons filled New Asia Restaurant to enjoy a pre-New Year feast. Patrons say Chinese New Year is much like Thanksgiving for Americans.

"It's a very happy occasion. Sometimes we don't see each other often because we're so busy. Now is a good time to get together and catch up and wish each other well for the New Year," said Julie Ling, a restaurant patron.

Inside the kitchen of Great Eastern Restaurant, the chef cooked popular and traditional dishes for this holiday such as dried oysters which symbolizes good fortune. 

Each of the dishes, such as pork's feet, has meaning. "Any money that comes with good luck like lottery gambling. Win a lot of money next year," said Marisa Tam, the owner of Great Eastern Restaurant.

Those wishing to feast at home kept Sun Sang Market busy. The store's owner says this is the busiest week of the year.

Roast pigs and chickens were popular items, and roast ducks were sold out by early afternoon.

Rose Pak with the Chinese Chamber of Commerce showed KTVU the many red envelopes filled with money she's prepared. "Giving out lucky money. It might be a dollar or five dollars but it's symbolism," she said.

Shortly before midnight Wednesday, firecrackers were lit in Chinatown to ring in the year of the ram.