San Francisco Chinatown Celebrates 'Year of the Dragon'

Saturday is Chinese New Year, but the celebrations were already underway in San Francisco on Friday as the sound of fireworks was almost nonstop. 

It is the most important holiday in Chinese culture.

For days, people have been shopping, cleaning house, and buying new clothes to celebrate this important time of the year. 

At the close of business on Friday, Chinese New Year's Eve, merchants and community members celebrated by lighting firecrackers.

It's a way to chase out the bad and bring in the good to welcome the Year of the Dragon, the only mythical creature among the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac. 

People born in this year are said to have certain traits.

"They have strong personalities. They're intelligent and charismatic.  And they're very passionate about their jobs. They love what they do, "said Nancy Law, owner of Asia Star Fantasy Inc., a store that sells Chinese zodiac merchandise.  

Food, family and fortune are the focus of celebrations. 

On New Year's Day, it's popular to eat vegetarian dishes. But seafood is also enjoyed.

"Fish has meaning in Chinese. In English, it symbolizes luck and prosperity," said Cora Ng of Chinatown Restaurant.  


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Shrimp dishes are popular too. The Chinese word for shrimp is "hah" which sounds like laughter. 

People packed in stores to buy baked goods.

"Neen goh" is what's known as new year cake. It is among the specialty items Henry Chen of AA Bakery makes only during this holiday period. 

He also sells small mini pastry pockets stuffed with peanuts, coconut and sesame. They symbolize wallets filled with money.

The owner of Sweetheart Florist said she's been very busy in the days leading up to new year.

"These are called pussy willows. In Chinese, the name sounds like money and silver," said Annie Lu, a volunteer with BeChinatown, a nonprofit dedicated to the beautification of Chinatown.

Another volunteer, Jonathan Sit said in addition to flowers, dragon fruits are important this year being that it's year of the dragon.

Tangerines with stems and leaves intact are a must-have. Sit said they symbolize longevity and togetherness, keep everything whole and that, "You have as much food as you can. And it's not just one day. It's weeks of celebration. Each day has its own custom."

Community leaders are inviting the public to attend a celebration in Chinatown on Saturday, February 10, Chinese New Year's Day. 

One will be held at Portsmouth Square at 11 a.m. The other will be along Grant Avenue, which starts at 12:30 p.m.

Event organizers plan to give out "lai see" or red envelopes, symbols of good luck.

Amber Lee is a reporter with KTVU. Email Amber at or text/leave message at 510-599-3922. Follow her on Facebook @AmberKTVU,  Instagram @AmberKTVU  or Twitter @AmberKTVU.