Boston’s Winter Express program begins outdoor events around city


Spectators watched lion dancers to the music of drum beats and firecrackers Feb. 13. Photo credit Erin Fine.

Erin Fine, news staff

Lion dancers paraded through Chinatown Feb. 13 to ring in the Year of the Tiger amid falling snow and festive crowds. This Lunar New Year celebration was the first event of Mayor Michelle Wu’s Boston Winter Express program.

The Express is a series of outdoor events around Boston in February and March aimed at uniting the community among Boston residents and promoting commerce among local businesses. The Express also aims to bring joy during a time when many Bostonians feel isolated inside due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and harsh winter weather.

“This is an opportunity for us to bring some cold weather joy to our neighborhoods,” Wu said in a press conference Feb. 4. “We are excited to bring communities across our city together safely outside in the wintertime.”

Chinatown Main Street, a non-profit organization, worked to host the Lunar New Year event, which featured free food and drinks for those who braved the snow. For those who identify as Chinese, Lunar New Year is a holiday of identity and prosperity. The Express shared that experience with all of Boston.

This year will be the year of resilience and strength,” said Hung Goon, the Lunar New Year event emcee. “It will be a great year for achieving your goal and pursuing your passion. Everyone can do it by tapping into the confidence of the tiger.”

During the Lunar New Year celebration, crowds gathered around 10 lion dance groups — including the Asian American Cultural Center and the Boston Chinese Freemasons Athletic Club. During the Lunar New Year, the lion dance brings success and prosperity for the upcoming year in Chinese tradition. The streets, lined with red decorations meant to represent luck and energy, were filled with the sound of drum beats to accompany the lion dancers. The Express’ organizers aim to spark hope for a brighter future with the winter events.

“Especially in the wintertime, we have all these really wonderful outdoor places, but during the colder months, people are less likely to venture out to the cold weather,” said Rob Barella, a member of the Boston Society of Landscape Architects, or BSLA. 

The BSLA partnered with the Boston mayor’s office to create outdoor pop-up spaces for the events.

“Part of this project in general is to try making people want to visit the spaces,” Barella said. 

The BSLA’s pop-up spaces are prototypes that include warm seating, hot beverages and local public art and music. These spaces are designed to encourage outdoor community gatherings in the winter, when it is still unsafe to hold large indoor gatherings in Boston due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The next event is the Children’s Winter Festival, which will be held in the Boston Common Parade Ground Feb. 24 at 11 a.m. The outdoor festival will include live music, giveaways, games, photo opportunities and food.

The mayor’s office organized the event along with AfroDesiaCity, a Boston-based event company that aims to uplift local and diverse upcoming artists. 

“I helped curate this event in my area, which I’m delighted to do,” said Olawumi Akinwumi, the deputy director of programs at ArtsBoston and an event coordinator at AfroDesiaCity. 

AfroDesiaCity played a large role in locating the musicians performing during the Express, including Shantel C., an upcoming Cape-Verdean American artist and second-year at Berklee College of Music.

The Express will also make a stop in Nubian Square Feb. 26 at noon outside the Roxbury Public Library in a celebration of Black History Month. Akinwumi spoke of the importance of the event for her community.

“It’s a way of peacemaking and inviting the community to know that we can celebrate events, especially for Black history, outdoors,” Akinwumi said. “Especially because we are from New England we should learn to embrace our four seasons anyway we know how.”

Roxbury suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic in the face of obstacles to economic growth and healthcare among Black communities. For Akinwumi, the Express is the start of rebuilding.

“It’s a prototype of what we can do in Nubian Square,” Akinwumi said. “I would like to see a lot of the Roxbury and Nubian Square community come together and activate the space.”

Finally, the Express will stop in Town Field in Dorchester March 5 at noon. Fields Corner Main Street partnered with the Express to provide complimentary hot drinks in the park and playground.

For the Express’s organizers, COVID-19 testing and vaccination is also a key goal of the events. Free at-home COVID-19 tests are available at all stops on the Express, and the celebration in Nubian Square will have a vaccine clinic.

“We’re educating folks to know that the vaccine is available and we have clinics ready,” Akinwumi said. 

For those involved with the Express, Akinwumi hopes that the event in Nubian Square is just the beginning for her community.

“If it’s going to be a one-time initiative that the city is doing, if it’s something we can look at continuing when it gets warmer … what’s the next step?” Akinwumi said. “How can we continue to sustain, how can we continue to create this?”