The Lunar New Year usually draws thousands to Manhattan’s Chinatown to watch the annual parade and partake in cultural festivities. Participants and spectators questioned whether they’d be able to celebrate this year, but a muted version popped off in Chinatown this afternoon — with confetti in lieu of fireworks.
For the last 22 years, Better Chinatown USA has hosted both a firecracker ceremony and a parade in Manhattan. The parade, which is said to draw 10,000 to 20,000 participants and thousands more spectators, had to be postponed this year due to social distancing guidelines, and is expected to take place alongside the Asian Pacific American Heritage Festival in late spring.
In contrast to the parade, adjustments to the Firecracker Cultural Festival were made to bring it in line with New York State’s COVID guidelines, which aim to uphold social distancing by limiting capacity at large events. Special permits allowed the celebration to be split into two separate sites — a park and a street in American Legion Kimlau Memorial Square — with a capacity of 50 people each. The exclusivity of the event left it open mainly to people such as community leaders and officials as well as sponsors.
Another adjustment: the traditional firecrackers were replaced with confetti. Firecrackers are traditionally used because they’re seen as “the main evil chasers,” but permit issues and NYPD concerns led Better Chinatown USA to reconsider them this year.
“In New York City, you cannot do a firecracker without a professional firework company to do it,” explained Steven Tin, executive director of Better Chinatown USA. “So it’s a lot of work to get them involved…and then sometimes, it depends on where, the park department does not like you to do firecrackers on their site. Not every park lets you do it…And of course, NYPD…they are afraid that too many people will come and it will be out of control.”
Despite these changes, Tin remained optimistic about the event. “I heard there’s still going to be lions and dragons going around the stores, to some businesses,” he said, referring to the traditional dances performed in lion or dragon costumes at Lunar New Year celebrations. “So people can come down. And luckily the governor opened restaurants…so people can go to the restaurants and enjoy.” After imposing a pause on indoor dining in December, Gov. Cuomo allowed dining rooms to reopen at 25 percent capacity today.
With families gathering in the neighborhood to dine and celebrate, East Village Walls, an Instagram account that collaborates with artists to put up street art around the city, is hoping to get a lot of traffic to its annual Lunar New Year mural, at the corner of Eldridge and Hester Streets.
This year’s mural, “Onward,” by local artist BKFoxx, features a highlander cow in honor of the year of the ox. The artist hopes people will “get a little boost out of it,” and that COVID has shed some light on how important and valuable art can be.
“I love doing it,” BKFoxx said. “It means a lot to the community to have a big physical representation of the celebration.”
This is the fifth time BKFoxx has spray-painted a photorealistic Lunar New Year mural, and she plans to continue until she has painted all 12 animals in the calendar. Last year’s work honored the year of the rat. “I heard they thought the rat was bad luck…appropriate one for 2020,” BKFoxx said. “Hopefully the ox will bring better luck.”