Chinese New Year celebration festive despite rain

Staff photographers

Thousands flocked to downtown San Francisco for the Chinese New Year parade as rain poured down and the temperatures dipped to the low 40s Saturday night.

Because of the rain, the crowds were much smaller, but for Lisa Bell of Petaluma, smaller crowds meant a better view of the parade.

“This is one of the best spots we’ve ever had,” said Bell who came with her three daughters and husband. “Usually, it’s twenty feet deep and it’s so hard to find a place to see. So it’s worth it.”

Bell comes to the city every year for the event. Last year, she was stuck standing behind a bigger crowd, hardly getting a clear view of the parade’s floats.

Like Bell, many other spectators who braved the elements were able to enjoy the parade.

“Last year, they said it’s going to rain so we didn’t come out,” said Elicia Suloada from South San Francisco. “This year, I said we’re going here anyway. We’re happy to come. We’re really enjoying it.”

The cold weather isn’t too out of the ordinary. The Chinese use the lunar calendar, so the annual celebration does not fall on the same date each year. It is generally, however, during the first quarter of the year, so the weather is rarely warm.

“Eighty percent of the time, the weather will be like this,” Victoria Rutherford said as she watched the parade.

The theme of this year’s parade was a combination of rabbits and dragons. While the year 2011 is known to be the year of the rabbit, one of the twelve Chinese zodiac characters, dragons are customary in most Chinese New Year celebrations.

The parade kicked off at the intersection of Market and Second streets around 5:15 p.m. and involved people of all ages — elementary school students to seniors. Many of them wore rabbit costumes or rabbit headbands with pink and white ears atop their heads.

First-time spectator Stephane Bagneris of San Jose came with a group of friends and his wife just to watch the parade.

“The kids are adorable,” Stephane said. “They’re just too cute.”

Near the end of the parade, a rainbow-colored dragon zig-zagged back and forth across the street, brushing people’s hair and giving them a chance to touch the dragon. People screamed, cheered and laughed as they stretched their hands to touch the creature.

Toward the end of the parade, the sound of exploding firecrackers filled the air as the crowd dispersed.