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How to Celebrate Chinese New Year in Honolulu Like You’re Really Chinese

If you want to usher in good luck in 2018, here’s what you need to do. Believe me, I am 100 percent Chinese.


Chinese New Year

Photo: Thinkstock 


Most people celebrate the new year on Jan. 1. My traditional Chinese family doesn’t officially celebrate the new year until February, when Chinese New Year rolls around (this year it falls on Feb. 16). As a second-generation Chinese-American, Chinese New Year is a huge deal for my family. It’s right up there with celebrating a birthday, wedding or anniversary. This monthlong celebration takes a lot of planning and preparation. Expect to go grocery shopping, cook Chinese dishes and clean house to usher in a healthy, prosperous new year.


Clean Your House

Image: Giphy 


Before the start of the new year, you’ll want to clean your house to get rid of the negative chi (energy). Sweeping under the rug or moving clutter to the closet doesn’t count. It’s time to get rid of the clutter, dust off the tables and shelves, and sweep the floors (or vacuum the carpet). Pro tip: Sweep the dust and rubbish inward starting from the door to welcome luck. Avoid sweeping outward or else you’ll be sweeping away good luck. 


Red Here, Red There, Red Everywhere

Lai see

Image: Giphy


From red lanterns and red firecrackers to red decorations—red is a popular color for Chinese people (including yours truly). You’ll see plenty of red paper decorations sold at Chinatown stores, so pick these up to decorate your home to bring happiness. My favorite part of the new year is when my parents and relatives offer me lucky red envelopes or li see stuffed with money. It’s a symbol of good luck usually given from a senior to a junior. For example, Chinese parents usually offer li see to their children during the holidays. No complaining here. Who doesn’t want some extra spending money? 


Feed the Lion 

Chinese lion dancing

Image: Giphy


You’ll start to see more Chinese lion dancers blessing local businesses (especially Chinese restaurants) during the new year. Stop by Chinatown Cultural Plaza and Chinatown in early February to feed the lion with dollar bills as a symbolism of good luck. Follow the pounding of the drums to find the lion dancers. Don’t be afraid to get close to the lion—you’ll need to stick out your hand with the dollar bills to “feed” the lion. Just remember, any money you offer to the lion will be a donation to the lion dancing association. Think of it as a blessing for the whole year.

Free, Feb. 9, 5 to 10 p.m., and Feb. 10, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Chinese New Year celebration, Chinatown Cultural Plaza, 100 N. Beretania St. 

Night in Chinatown is canceled this year.


Visit the Temple 

Chinese New Year incense

Photo: Thinkstock 


At your nearest Buddhist temple, you’ll most likely see people praying and meditating to the sound of gongs. Offer a small donation to the temple to use its provided incense sticks. Light three incense sticks, hold them up and take a bow, then stick the incense sticks into the giant pot—an offering to the Buddha for good karma. 


Cook These Dishes 

Photo: Diane Lee


Every year, my mom spends hours buying groceries from Chinatown and cooking in the kitchen to make lucky Chinese New Year dishes. On the menu: Lo han jai or “Buddha’s Delight” vegetarian stew, gin dui (fried sesame balls) and nian gao (chewy mochi cake). These lucky dishes are traditionally served during the first day of Chinese New Year and essential to the Chinese family dinner table. Watch the YouTube videos below for the recipes. 


Gin Dui 

Difficulty level: Easy


Nian Gao 

Difficulty level: Medium 


Lo Han Jai 

Difficulty level: Hard 


Read More Stories by Diane Lee 


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Honolulu Magazine May 2018
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