The Chinese zodiac begins a new 12-year cycle in early 2020 with the Year of the Rat. According to lore, the rat (as a zodiac animal personality, that is) is associated with wealth, cleverness and likability. Those all sound pretty good.
Also good: the Lunar New Year events that take place across the five boroughs, giving you a chance to join in one of NYC’s most exciting cultural celebrations. It’s a time for costumed lion dances, dragon processions, red envelopes (ideally filled with money), traditional foods and paying your respects to the gods. Read on for more details.
When it is
The Gregorian calendar says every new year begins January 1, but the traditional lunar calendar says otherwise (it also says that year 4718 is coming up). That calendar is used by Chinese, Korean, Tibetan, Mongolian and Vietnamese populations to determine holidays; it usually places New Year’s at the end of January or in early February. During the 15 days that follow, numerous celebrations—parades, fireworks, eating of traditional (and “lucky”) foods and, at the culmination, a lantern festival—take place.
In 2020 Lunar New Year falls on January 25, the date of the second new moon after the winter solstice.
Where to go
New York City has a handful of Chinatowns, where most major Lunar New Year activities take place—although many cultural institutions throughout the five boroughs hold their own events.
The most famous such neighborhood is in downtown Manhattan, a wide pocket spreading on either side of the Bowery mostly south of Canal Street; Mott Street has the highest concentration of shops and restaurants. The downtown part of Flushing, Queens, which centers on the intersection of Roosevelt Avenue and Main Street, has a predominantly Asian population as well, and the eastern section of Brooklyn’s Sunset Park, along Eighth Avenue, is chockablock with busy Asian markets and dumpling spots. Small but burgeoning Chinatowns exist around Avenue U in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, and 18th Avenue in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn.
What to eat
Traditional holiday foods include dumplings, long noodles, peanuts, eight-treasure rice (a dessert with dried fruits) and New Year cake (typically a steamed cake with lots of flavor variations). You’ll find plenty of places along the main Chinatown strips in Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn serving up menus filled with New Year’s delicacies. Each area holds its share of dim sum palaces, noodle joints and seafood restaurants—and the cuisines go beyond the regions of China, with Korean, Malaysian and Vietnamese establishments as well.
The main events
Boisterous, colorful parades held in Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn highlight January and February’s calendar; all of them are family friendly and worth attending to get a feel for the holiday. Check back for dates; we’ll put them in as the information becomes available.
Firecracker Ceremony and Cultural Festival
January 25, Sara D. Roosevelt Park, Chinatown/Lower East Side
Start the Year of the Pig off with a bang at this sparkle-filled, performance-heavy gathering. A lion’s dance troupe continues the fun along the main streets of Chinatown.
Lunar New Year Parade (Queens)
January 25, Flushing
Arrive at Historic St. George’s Church on the day of the event before 10:30am to meet up with other revelers. The parade begins around 11am, at Union Street and 37th Avenue.
Parade and Festival (Brooklyn)
Plan to show up late morning as close as you can get to Eighth Avenue and 50th Street for music, dancing and other performances.
Lunar New Year Parade (Manhattan)
February 9, Chinatown
This street party is the holiday’s biggest gala, with roughly 500,000 turning out for it each year. Be on the lookout for dragons, floats and a hail of red and gold.
Other places to celebrate
A number of museums, historical societies and parks hold related events that serve as good introductions to Lunar New Year, especially for children. Below you'll find details on some of those happenings, but there are plenty more that take place across the five boroughs.
Museum of Chinese in America
January 5–February 29, Chinatown, Manhattan
MoCA Fest, as it’s known, encompasses book launches (January 18 and 28), a family festival (February 1) and walking tours of Chinatown (each Sunday in January). The museum’s regular programming, including exhibits on Chinese-American history and Chinese railroad labor in the US, is ongoing during the time.
Westfield World Trade Center
January 12–February 1, Lower Manhattan
Highlights include a documentary screening on Chinese fashion (January 27), a sculpture exhibition (January 29–31) and a lion dance procession (February 1). Most events take place either on the Oculus floor or the lower level of the its south concourse.
Flushing Town Hall
January 16–February 21, Flushing, Queens
In addition to a monthlong gallery exhibition (January 17–February 16), Flushing Town Hall will celebrate with events such as a puppet-making day (January 18), Chinese folk music performances (January 26) and a temple fair (February 1).
Snug Harbor Cultural Center
January 25, Randall Manor, Staten Island
Enjoy traditional foods, crafts and music plus a procession to the Chinese Scholar’s Garden.
January 26, Flushing Meadow Corona Park, Queens
This family affair sees the Chinese Cultural Center hosting arts and crafts and various traditional performances to honor the Year of the Rat.
January 28, Upper West Side, Manhattan
Long Yu, the director of the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, conducts New York Philharmonic in a program to celebrate Lunar New Year.
The Met Fifth Avenue
February 1, Upper East Side, Manhattan
Expect an afternoon of workshops and art activities celebrating the Year of the Rat.