With troops of colorful lion dancers, drums and cymbals, firecrackers, and great food, this is a special event you won't want to miss!
Boston's annual Chinese New Year Parade through the streets of Chinatown gives you a great opportunity to see traditional Lion Dances - and a perfect excuse to visit one of the neighborhood's wonderful restaurants.
The parade date varies each year and may also be subject to last-minute changes if we get extreme weather conditions - so keep your plans flexible if possible.
Chinese New Year Parade Date & Route
The Chinatown parade usually (but not always) takes place on the second Sunday after the beginning of Chinese New Year. It begins at 11am - or, if there are a lot of speeches, shortly after 11am - and finishes a few hours later.
The parade route winds around Kneeland Street, Essex Street, Harrison Ave, and several smaller side streets.
Most of Chinatown becomes pedestrian-only during the event.
After the parade's initial procession around the neighborhood, lion dances take place simultaneously in multiple locations, going from business to business up and down all the streets, smaller lanes, and alleys.
Just follow the noise from the drums and firecrackers to find the action. There is no one "best" place to view the parade.
What to Expect During the Chinese New Year Parade
When the weather is good, Chinatown businesses hang red paper lanterns along the streets.
Red symbolizes good luck and happiness in Chinese culture.
Chinatown's civic and benevolent organizations and clubs sponsor local kung fu groups and dance troupes to perform the Lion Dances.
If the weather is good - meaning no strong wind, or heavy rain or snow - the parade also includes dragon dances.
Each procession typically includes a pair of "lions," a Buddha/Clown, attendants, and music ensembles with gongs, cymbals, and drums who set the emotional and rhythmic pace of the dance.
The elaborate lion costumes, hand-made in China or Taiwan, conceal 2 dancers. One controls head movements, and the other synchronizes the dance steps.
You'll typically see three major color combinations in the lion costumes: yellow, symbolizing wisdom, red and black (courage), and green and black (fierceness).
Most of the lion costumes in Boston's Chinese New Year Parade reflect the style of Southern Lions from Guangdong Province in Southern China, home of the Cantonese people who first settled (by way of California) in Boston in the mid-1870s.
If you observe the different lion pairs, you'll notice that each group has its own dance routine. The dance is choreographed to express a number of different emotions: joy, curiosity, respect, anger, contentment, playfulness. The clown may play with the lions as part of the routine.
Owners of Chinatown's restaurants, bakeries, tea shops, and other businesses place offerings - usually cabbages and oranges - on a small table or chair in front of the door.
A pair of lions stops outside each door, and announces their presence.
They inspect the food offered to them.
When the restaurant owner comes to the door and "feeds" the lions, they bow three times in gratitude.
The lions (sometimes with help from their attendants) then toss the oranges into the air. Whoever catches them will have especially good luck throughout the year.
Next, the lions throw cabbages to the ground with enough force to smash them, which symbolizes spreading good fortune among the crowd.
Finally, the restaurant owner presents the lions with a red envelope (traditionally containing money), which they pretend to eat. This ensures good luck for the restaurant.
In response, the lions show their satisfaction by performing a special dance, accompanied by clashing cymbals, drums, and gongs.
At the end, firecrackers are exploded to scare away evil spirits and bring the restaurant luck for the coming year.
Hotels near Boston's Chinatown
Take advantage of low winter rates and choose one of these wonderful hotels near Chinatown and the Theatre District:
Check out all our tips on how to find discounts, deals, and promo codes for Boston hotels. Whether you're looking for bargain accommodations or want to pay less for luxury, we'll show you How to Save on Hotels in Boston.