Welcoming the Year of the Dragon

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the longest parade dragon measured 18,390 feet, dominating the streets of Hong Kong in Oct. 2012. As the legend behind the icon goes: the longer the dragon is, the more luck it will bring in the new year. Photo by Samantha Avilia Griffin/SF Foghorn.

The air at the corner of Kearny and Clay streets was filled with the sweet, burnt scent of firework smoke last Saturday as thousands watched the Year of the Dragon festivities at San Francisco’s 2024 Lunar New Year Parade.

Whizzes and bangs could be heard for miles as vendors standing behind rickety tables hawked explosive goods—“Supercharged Pop-Pops” were 2 for $1, cone-shaped “Rockets” were $4. The cacophony was supplemented by the wails of police sirens, trumpeting blasts of noisemakers and shrieks of children, who danced around the outskirts of the crowds with spinning red pinwheels in hand. 

“It’s an exciting crowd, you can feel the energy,” said SF native Howard Koo. “It’s my first year officially coming, because last year it was raining like crazy. [This parade is] big time — the one to be at!” 

Lion dancers were in abundance, including SFPD’s Lion Dance Team. A line of brightly colored lions every so often charged their oversized heads into the crowd, so that nearby attendees could rub their heads and bodies to call in good luck for the new year. 

Spectators gathered along the 1.3 mile parade route, starting on Market Street and wrapping around Union Square. Some clung to traffic lights to get a view, while others arrived hours early to snag a front row spot. 

Eye-catching floats were abundant, including supermarket chain Lucky’s enormous red motorized shopping cart, whose revving engine delighted the crowd, and Sky River Casino’s giant golden spade.

And of course, everywhere you looked, there were dragons, dragons, dragons. The creature could be seen on every corner and even projected onto the top of the Salesforce Tower — a scaly red LED dragon chased a hopping rabbit that was symbolic of 2023’s Year of the Rabbit, signaling out with the old and in with the new. The largest of the parade dragons was the Golden Dragon, “Gum Lung,” a 288-foot-long dragon who required 180 carriers to maneuver it through the parade. Each year, the parade’s finale is marked by the showing of the Golden Dragon. Due to damage suffered by last year’s model, organizers debuted the new “Gum Lung” this year, perfectly coinciding with it being the Year of the Dragon. 

Parade Grand Marshal and actress Awkwafina led the procession seated in a glossy red Ford Mustang, waving and carrying a “Po” Panda stuffed animal, a nod to her upcoming role in the “Kung Fu Panda 4” movie. “I’m still figuring out what it means to be an Asian American woman…getting older and I guess, the message is still the same,” she said in an interview with KTVU. “… It’s all about now for me, like, ushering in the next generation of, and also just being an audience member of the next generation of Asian American kids.”

Attendee Emily Robles said, “I grew up in the Bay Area, so I would come to these events growing up. Hearing the music, seeing the clothing and eating the street food that comes out during this event is amazing! I love the marching bands, especially the one woman who kills it on xylophone. The music is my favorite part.” 

Several musical acts participated, including Alameda’s Lincoln Middle School with their yearly revival of “Chinese Dragon Dance,” and the San Francisco Renegades Drum and Bugle Corps, led with a snare drum brigide. 

Students from The Tat Wong Kung Fu Academy showcased their kung fu skills and performed a lion dance led by kids wearing dragon onesies. Mae-Yan Wong, senior architecture major at USF is a drummer for the Tat Wong Academy lion dance. “The parade holds a lot of significance to me as it serves as a way for me to feel more connected to my family’s and culture’s customs,” she said, noting that her dad opened the kung fu school more than 40 years ago and has been a regular participant in the parade. 

Other performers included students of Garfield Elementary School, who were  dressed as tiles from the Chinese game of mahjong. 

“I think the parade is very important to the celebration and sharing of Chinese culture, especially to Chinese Americans who can have a hard time feeling connected to our cultural identity,” Wong said. “I always feel proud to represent my dad and Tat Wong Kung Fu Academy in the parade and look forward to it every year.” 

Editor-in-Chief: Megan Robertson, Chief Copy Editor: Sophia Siegel, Managing Editor: Jordan Premmer, Scene Editor: Inés Ventura

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