Lunar New Year 2024, Hawaii Style

Wait, Didn’t the New Year Already Happen?

One of the biggest holidays in the world, celebrated by billions of people including many in Hawaii, is the Lunar New Year. Also known as Chinese New Year, this holiday has its roots in Asia where farmers in ancient China used the moon to help with farming and the welcoming of Spring. Symbolism is a big part of the celebration, as is the idea of leaving the old year behind and welcoming a new you with new luck and new wealth. (In fact, one of the most popular ways to say happy new year is Gong Hei Fat Choy which more or less translates to “Hope you get rich!”) Red is considered the luckiest color, so that’s why nearly every outfit and decoration is in various shades of red.

So, When Do We Celebrate?

Lunar New Year doesn’t always fall on the same calendar day each year—sorry, there’s some math involved. The formula for when the new year occurs is pretty easy—it’s on the day after the second new moon after the winter solstice. One of the best things about this holiday? It lasts for 15 days! The biggest celebrations happen at the start and end of this time period, but there’s usually events throughout the two weeks. This year it lands on February 10th and Hawaii is geared up to celebrate. Here’s some things to check out around the islands as well as some traditions you can try to get in on the fun.

Lion Dances

Often confused as dragon dances (which are also a part of Chinese New Year celebrations, but not seen as much in Hawaii), these colorful performances are a spectacle and an absolute blast to experience. The lion is typically made up of at least two people, with one operating the head and the other as the back end. (Think of the two person horse costume, where the person in back is often the literal butt of jokes.) The performance is accompanied by drummers that set a loud and furious beat that’s hard to not get caught up in. The dancers are often part of local kung fu and other martial arts groups and they dedicate a lot of time to training and learning the acrobatic moves that make the creature come to life. Some lions have several moving parts, such as eyelids and ears, but the mouth is the most important and animating aspect. The lion dance is performed to chase bad spirits and luck away, bringing good luck and prosperity. The performance often proceeds through streets and shopping centers, going into individual shops to chase away any of the previous year’s bad luck. What’s especially fun is the audience participation where you feed red envelopes filled with money into the lion’s mouth.    Even though you know it’s just a person in there operating the lion’s head, it’s genuinely thrilling when it comes to be your turn and you hold the envelope out. (When younger kids do this, laughing and cheers can quickly turn into crying and tears.) There are a few venues across the state hosting lion dances for the Lunar New Year. On Big Island, a celebration will be held in Honoka‘a town around the Honoka‘a Heritage Center on February 10th from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. On Maui, celebrations can be found in Kahului at Maui Mall from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Kihei at South Maui Gardens from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. On O‘ahu, there’s a lot to check out. The celebrations this weekend (and beyond) will be at the International Market Place, Ward Village and Ala Moana Center.


As is the case with many holidays, food is an important part of celebrating the Lunar New Year. Foods traditionally served during this time have symbolic meanings, often even connected to their pronunciation. Good luck, wealth and good fortune are very much tied into the symbolism. A good example is the prominent display of oranges during Lunar New Year. The Cantonese word for tangerine is practically the same word for gold, so you’ll often see oranges and other citrus piled high in the hopes of inviting more gold into your life. Fish is also a prominent dish during this time of year since in Mandarin it sounds a lot like the word for surplus. Noodles represent longevity and are a necessity—the longer the noodles, the better your chances are to have a long life. Bamboo shoots are also thought to bring long life. Carrots double up in the symbolism. The reddish-orange color has built in luck, and when you cut them into circles they look like coins. Some other staples of Chinese dishes such as snow peas and water chestnuts symbolize unity—going hand in hand with gathering with family and being thankful for each other.

Lunar New Year for You

Even if you’re not in an area that celebrates the Lunar New Year, there’s plenty you can do at home to get in the spirit of the holiday. I’m going to start with one that’s not exactly fun, but is an important part of symbolism—cleaning the house. It’s something many people in Western cultures do during this time of the year anyway, we just call it Spring Cleaning. This is about getting rid of the previous year’s clutter, mess and bad luck. You want to do this before the new year though, as it’s considered bad luck to clean on the new year. You don’t want to be sweeping away any of that new luck and good fortune that you invited in. Okay, enough of the work part of bringing in luck. Now the fun stuff. You don’t want any unlucky spirits you may have picked up in the last year to stick with you, so you want to change your appearance. This means getting a new haircut and wearing new clothes (preferably red). Nothing wrong with a holiday that gives you an excuse to update your wardrobe and style. Now that you’re a new you, last year’s bad luck won’t even recognize you.

A fun part of the Lunar New Year is how it ties to the Chinese zodiac. You’ve probably seen this at Chinese restaurants at some point. The lunar calendar follows a 12-year cycle, with each year represented by a different animal as well as an element (water, wood, fire, earth and metal). The animal repeats every twelve years while the element repeats every ten, though it doesn’t repeat for the same animal for another 60 years (more math, sorry). The new element and animal this year is the wood dragon. It will be the year of the dragon again in 2036 but it won’t be the year of the wood dragon again 2084. The Chinese zodiac is incredibly detailed and complex, with all kinds of advice on how the different signs relate to each other, especially when it comes to business dealings and romance. Just like with Western zodiac, take it all with a grain of salt. Finding your sign and all the idiosyncrasies that go with it can be a fun way to get into the spirit of things, and it might surprise you how insightful some of it can be.

Probably the most important part of the Lunar New Year is being with loved ones. This time of year is some of the biggest travel dates for much of the world for this reason. Everyone goes home for the holidays to be with family and friends. (And eat. Lots of eating. Like we do in Hawaii—don’t stop when you’re full, only when you’re tired.) It’s also a time of charity and generosity. This is especially true for the elder family members giving to the youngest, usually in the same red envelopes used to feed the lion dancers. This year the first weekend of the Lunar New Year falls on Superbowl weekend, so with luck you’re already with friends and family. Take time to enjoy the time together and know that even non football fans are doing the same all around the world.


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