A Guide to Washington, D.C.'s Chinese New Year Parade

Chinese New Year Parade, Washington, D.C.
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Chinese New Year in Washington, D.C, is celebrated with traditional Chinese dragon dances, kung fu demonstrations, and a massive parade.

The procession that occupies Chinatown's streets every year is a colorful celebration of Chinese culture. A wide variety of cultural and community organizations participate, as do many members of the local Chinese population.

Washington's Chinese New Year festivities are largely centered around the animal sign for that year. These 12 rotating animal signs represent a cyclical concept of time. You can expect to see lots of rodents in this year's celebration because 2020 is the Year of the Rat.

Date and Time

The Chinese New Year Parade will take place on Sunday, January 26—falling on the exact day of Chinese New Year this time—at 2 p.m. It typically lasts about an hour.

Location

Chinese New Year festivities will mostly take place in Chinatown, on H Street NW, between 6th and 8th Streets. The parade starts at 6th Street and Eye Street NW and ends at 6th Street and H Street NW. A good place to view it is along 7th Street, away from the largest crowd at the finish. The closest Metro station is Gallery Place/Chinatown

The streets will be congested due to road closures, but if you must drive, there is some street parking available in the area. Get there early because they fill up quickly. From I-395 North, take the 12th Street exit, merge onto 12th Street SW, turn right at Constitution Avenue NW/US-1, then left at 6th Street NW/US-1, and arrive in Chinatown. 

What to Expect

More than 30 groups, dance troupes, organizations, and businesses are invited to participate in the Chinese New Year Parade each year. Here are a few parade highlights to look out for.

  • The Friendship Arch: This traditional Chinese gate prominently marks the Chinatown neighborhood at H and 7th Streets. The Chinese New Year Parade is centered around this landmark. 
  • Chinese lions dancing along H Street: In China, the lion is regarded as the king of the forests and of the other animals. It has long been used as a symbol of power and grandeur and is believed to offer protection from evil spirits. You'll see plenty of traditional lion dancing in this procession.
  • Marching bands: Falun Gong, a Chinese spiritual organization, typically marches with red lacquered drums and red streamers. Other marching bands around the city will also be in attendance.
  • Children and youth groups: Children of the Chinese Youth Club of Washington twirl diabolos, a kind of Chinese yo-yo, as they march in the parade.
  • The dragon dance: Dragons are an important symbol in Chinese New Year traditions. The dragon dance, like the lion dance, is always a favorite.
  • Qilin: A qilin is a mythical beast covered in fire that appears as sage to bring serenity and prosperity to all.
  • Firecrackers: The Chinese New Year Parade ends with a bang—literally—with the lighting of a giant firecracker. Firecrackers are used because they imply that everyone will be exploding or bursting with good fortune.

Tips for Celebrating Chinese New Year

  • According to the parade website, spectators should wear the color red to "ward off evil spirits and bring in good fortune." Rat accessories are also welcome.
  • While most Chinese businesses would traditionally close up shop during the Chinese New Year holiday, the ones in Chinatown, Washington, D.C., tend to stay open for the festivities. Arrive early to have a celebratory lunch or stay for a while after the parade for dinner.
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