Guide to the Chinese New Year in Manhattan: Festivals, Events, Things to Do

Parade, Festivals, and Celebratory Dinners

Dragon at the annual Chinese New Year parade
Bruce Yuanyue Bi / Getty Images

The Lunar New Year, or Chinese New Year based on the Chinese lunar calendar, is usually celebrated at the end of January or in early February, with feasts, lion dancers, acrobats, martial artists, colorful parades with floats, and many street festivals. It's also traditional to light firecrackers as a symbol of cleansing the land and welcoming spring. In 2020, the Year of the Rat, the holiday falls on January 25. The first of all Chinese zodiac animals, the rat represents wealth, fertility, and achievement, as well as the beginning of a new day.

New York City, home to the highest concentration of Chinese people in the Western Hemisphere and one of the oldest Chinese communities in the U.S., is a great place to celebrate the New Year. People of Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Mongolian ethnicity in the country also honor the holiday. Manhattan offers a variety of festivities the public can participate in and enjoy, from family-friendly parades to art workshops and New York Philharmonic concerts.

Burning ribbons at the Firecracker Ceremony
Drew Angerer / Getty Images

Firecracker Ceremony and Cultural Festival

The 21st annual New Year Firecracker Ceremony and Cultural Festival takes place in Manhattan's Chinatown in the basketball court at Sara D. Roosevelt Park (at Grand Street between Forsyth Street and Chrystie Street) on January 25, 2020, from 11 a.m.–3:30 p.m. Local politicians and community leaders attend this important tradition.

Expect performances all day by traditional and contemporary Asian-American singers and dancers. Dance groups masked as lions, dragons, and unicorns march through Chinatown's main streets and firework displays are set up to ward off evil spirits for the new year.

Chinatown's New Year parade
Corbis via Getty Images / Getty Images

Annual Chinatown Lunar New Year Parade & Festival

Held at 1 p.m. on February 9, 2020, the Annual Chinatown Lunar New Year Parade begins at Mott and Canal streets and then heads to Chatham Square and East Broadway. Next, the parade goes in the direction of the Manhattan Bridge, ending up on Eldridge and Forsyth Streets towards Grand Street (adjacent to Sara D. Roosevelt Park). The family-friendly and free spectacle features elaborate floats, marching bands, steel drums, and lion and dragon dances galore. Asian musicians, magicians, acrobats, and local leaders also participate. When the parade concludes in the afternoon in Sara D. Roosevelt Park, an outdoor cultural festival begins with more musicians, dancers, and martial artists.

Chinese New Year Celebrations by the China Institute

The China Institute is a bi-cultural nonprofit organization in Manhattan since 1926 that promotes Chinese heritage. In 2020, the organization hosts a daytime Chinese New Year Family Festival at their downtown office on February 2 from noon to 4 p.m. Entertainment includes a lion dance, educational workshops, and activities including making lanterns and dumplings, storytelling, paper cutting, New Year treats, crafts, puppet shows, and art installations with the theme of the year. General admission is free, but certain workshops have a charge.

On February 3, 2020, the annual China Institute's Chinese New Year Gala in honor of the Lunar New Year takes place at the Prince George Ballroom from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Put on your festive clothing and enjoy everything from a traditional lion dance to Chinese poetry and music to a buffet of desserts and a raffle of luxury items and interesting experiences. Tickets are required in advance; proceeds from the event benefit the organization's education programs.

Westfield World Trade Center

At the Westfield World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan, honor the 2020 Lunar New Year by seeing a documentary film on Chinese fashion from 6 to 8:30 p.m. on January 27, or learning about Chinese culture and its art, literature, holidays, and more on January 31 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Visitors can also enjoy a lion dance procession from 1:30 to 2 p.m. on February 1, heading from the Oculus to Brookfield Place. You'll find most events either on the Oculus floor or the lower level of the south concourse.

The Museum of Chinese in America Lunar New Year Family Festival

In January and through most of February, the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) offers activities for the 2020 Lunar New Year, in addition to their normal programming, which includes exhibits on Chinese-American history and railroad labor in the U.S. by Chinese workers. The Lunar New Year Family Festival in Manhattan's Chinatown on February 1 includes book launches and Sunday walking tours of Chinatown in January. MOCA Family Festivals usually include special guests, arts and crafts, storytelling, teaching artist demonstrations, and more fun.

New York Philharmonic Concerts

On the evening of January 28, 2020, celebrate the Lunar New Year with the U.S. premiere of Zhou Tian’s "Gift" and "Spin-Flip" by Texu Kim (appearing in New York for the first time). You'll also enjoy Gershwin’s "Rhapsody in Blue" and Gil Shaham in Chen Gang and He Zhanhao’s "The Butterfly Lovers," Violin Concerto. The New York Philharmonic concert in David Geffen Hall in Manhattan's Upper West Side will be conducted by Long Yu.

The Met Fifth Avenue

Enjoy a Lunar New Year Festival from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on February 1, 2020, at the Met Fifth Avenue in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The whole family will be entertained with fun activities all day long, including everything from a parade with the Chinese Center on Long Island Lion Troupe and a show with Sesame Street puppeteers to dance and drum performances. Look for art workshops, such as some on making Asian Den-den Daiko pellet drums or trying your hand at calligraphy.

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