Even in the midst of another blustery New England winter, Boston’s Chinatown comes alive to celebrate its most important holiday, the Lunar New Year, with parades and festivities to be held on Sunday, February 12, 2017. This boisterous and unmissable event features parades, stages with folk dance performances, costumed dragon dances, an indoor “Cultural Village”, and of course, the door-to-door lion dances, meant to usher in good tidings and prosperity in the coming year. While not quite as epic in scope as Lunar New Year celebrations back in China and southeast Asia--a two week affair dominated by almost round-the-clock firecracker and rocket explosions, and the largest annual human migration in the whole world--Chinatown is a great place to come get a taste of what it’s all about.
To the Chinese-speaking community (and others who follow similar traditions based on the lunar calendar), CNY can best be described as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day, all rolled into one super holiday. The reunion dinner on the eve of the new lunar year traditionally sees the return of family members from around the country, the region, and even from the farthest-flung corners of the globe. Collaborative banquets are often prepared by large families, often including foods such as jiaozi (half moon-shaped dumplings), roast meats, and whole fish--many of the dishes typically served have culturally symbolic meanings, often referring to good fortune and prosperity, as well as being extravagantly delicious. Hong Bao, small red envelopes containing cash or other monetary gifts, are often doled out to friends and family members (often unmarried ones). After the reunion dinner night, parades, parties, open houses, and many other colorful festivities continue for weeks!
To get a small look into this fascinating cultural phenomenon and Boston’s own Chinese heritage, you need only look as far as Chinatown (and increasingly, the suburb of Quincy). Though comprising only several city blocks between South Station and the Theater District, Boston’s Chinatown--3rd largest in the US--is still one of the city’s most unique neighborhoods. Not quite the imposing size of New York or San Francisco’s Chinese enclaves, this small slice of the Middle Kingdom is no less fascinating, and has a rich history dating back well over a hundred years--as well as colorful markets, lively cultural festivals, and some top-notch restaurants. The neighborhood itself has been in flux since it’s initial development as a sort of low-coast neighborhood for recently arrived immigrants to the city (previously including Irish, Syrian, and Jewish settlers). The Chinese population began to take shape after laborers came to work in the Massachusetts textile mills, as well as the Boston neighborhood that became the Garment District. The mid 20th century saw the area in steep decline, abutted by downtown Boston’s seediest area, the Combat Zone, an area rife with organized crime and vice. Nonetheless, a thriving Cantonese community kept the area--and its close-knit sense of identity--largely intact, through those days as a vice-ridden gangland, and into its current state of encroaching development, in the form of luxury condominiums. Gourmet coffee roasters now sit around the corner from Traditional Chinese Medicine herbal shops and tea vendors. Chinatown has also seen an influx of people from all across East and Southeast Asia--most noticeably from Vietnam, Taiwan, and other parts of mainland China (many from Fujian province)--the grand old dim sum palaces and Cantonese BBQ-outlets now share the block with fiery Sichuan hotpot restaurants and fragrant Vietnamese pho shops; all are packed with locals, tourists, and the ever-growing international student set, attending some of the city’s finest colleges and universities.
Speaking of food, which is so central to this collection of communities--you might just find yourself getting pretty hungry while catching the street festivities in Chinatown during these Lunar New Year celebrations; why not check out some of our favorites? If crispy roast pork, fragrant and sweet char siu, or well lacquered decadent roast duck--all under $9 a plate--sound like your thing, Quic Pic BBQ is surely not to be missed! Dumpling lovers can jump in line for some signature Taiwanese style xiao long bao (dumplings filled with hot liquified soup broth and meat) at Gourmet Dumpling House, while Hei La Moon’s banquet halls filled with a rolling smorgasbord of cartsare a dim sum-lover’s paradise. Festivals like Chinese New Year will also see a plethora of pop-up street food vendors and food trucks--so make sure to save some room here as well! Your options are truly endless, in this part of the city, so stay tuned for our Chinatown dining guide, coming soon--and don’t forget to greet the Chinatown locals with a hearty “Gong Si Fa Cai”, the traditional congratulatory salutation for welcoming in the New Year.