Lunar New Year is also called Chinese New Year. However, this festival heralding the spring season is observed throughout Asia. In Vietnam, it is called Têt, which is short for “Têt Nguyên Đán”, meaning “Festival of the First Morning of the First Day” (referring to the first day of the first month in the lunar calendar).
About the lunar calendar
The Gregorian calendar is based on the solar year–the time is takes Earth to rotate around the sun. In contrast, the lunar calendar follows the phases of the moon as it orbits Earth. The beginning of the New Year on the lunar calendar precedes the planting season when new spring crops are sown.
A lunar month or lunation begins with the “New Moon”, when it is positioned directly between the Sun and Earth. It is not visible from Earth, aka the “dark side of the moon”. As it rotates or “waxes” around Earth, it becomes visible. First it is crescent shaped. Halfway through the month, it is full and bright. Finally, the Moon completes its orbit (“wanes”).
The beginning of Lunar New Year occurs halfway between the winter solstice and spring equinox, somewhere between January 20 and February 10.
2023 Lunar New Year – Year of the Rabbit
The lunar calendar follows a 12-year cycle. Each year is associated with one of 12 animal symbols in the zodiac. According to Chinese legend, the Jade Emperor invited the animals of his kingdom to enter a race through the countryside. The first 12 to finish the long race would each rule over one year every 12 years.
The 12 animals are: rat, ox (Vietnamese buffalo), tiger, rabbit (Vietnamese cat), dragon, snake, horse, sheep (Vietnamese goat), monkey, rooster, dog, and pig.
- 2023 is the year of the Rabbit (Cat*).
- Sunday, January 22, 2023 is the first day of the Lunar Year.
- Rabbit years include 1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011, 2023.
About Lunar New Year traditions
Preparations begin before the first day of the Lunar NewYear. The celebration continues for several days. Traditions include cleaning and decorating the home, buying new clothes, paying off debts, resolving family arguments, honoring ancestors, gifting red money envelopes, and eating special foods. The color red and yellow signify good fortune. Eight is a lucky number.
Foods for Lunar New Year include long noodles, dumplings, rice cakes, spring rolls, turnips and radishes, fish, pork, and other dishes. Traditional Têt foods include special rice cakes called Banh Chung and Banh Tet, roasted watermelon seeds, pickled onions, boiled chicken, mung bean pudding, Vietnamese sausage (giò chả), red sticky rice, and sweet dried fruits.
There are many ways to say “Happy Lunar New Year “. Listed below are a few in different languages.
- In Cantonese, “gōng xǐ fā cái“ (phonetically gung hay fat choy) is a common phrase that wishes the receiver prosperity. So it’s not strictly a “happy new year” phrase.
- In Manadarin Chinese, you can say “xīn nián kuài lè” (phonetically shin nee-an kwai le).
- On the day of Têt, say ‘chúc mừng năm mới’ (phonetically chook moong nam mwha).
- In Hawaiian, say “Hauʻoli makahiki hou” (phonetically how-olee mah-kah-hee-kee hoe), which of course means “Happy New Year” though it is merely a translation of the English phrase and not a Hawaiin greeting per se.
Lunar New Year traditions in Hawai’i
The biggest Lunar New Year celebration in Hawaiʻi takes place in Honolulu’s Chinatown. Festivities include a lion dance, entertainment, and food. Other shopping centers and performance venues throughout the Hawaiian Islands typcially host performances, demonstrations, giveaways, and contests. Find upcoming events on our calendar list below.
Listed below are some Hawaiian foods to celebrate Lunar New Year.
- Chicken Long Rice is a Hawaiian homestyle dish made with boiled chicken and long cellophane (or glass) noodles (the “rice”) simmered with garlic and ginger. Eating long noodles for Lunar New Year symbolize longevity. Chicken Long Rice recipe from Foodland
- Manapua are steamed bao (buns), usually filled with char siu pork. Find manapua at specialty shops, food trucks, convenience stores, and grocery stores (hot deli or frozen foods). https://youtu.be/AaC7TIU7L8I
- Mandoo are filled dumplings similar to gyoza or pot stickers. They are often included as part of a plate lunch or bento. Find ready-made frozen post stickers at most grocers. Pan-Fried Mandoo (Korean dumplings) recipe from Hawaiian Electric
- Other Hawaiian foods: laulau filled with pork and fish, fresh tangerines, pickled onions, and crack seed (salty dried fruits).
Fireworks laws in Hawaiʻi
Note that Hawai’i state laws restrict the purchase and use of fireworks to specific days during the year, which includes Chinese (Lunar) New Year’s Day. In addition, there are other restrictions and required permits. For information from Honolulu Fire Department: Firecrackers | Honolulu Fire Department or visit your local county fire department. For the complete list of Hawaii State laws governing fireworks, visit Hawaii HRS 132D.
Calendar of Lunar New Year events in Hawaiʻi
Listed below are upcoming events for Lunar New Year across the Hawaiian Islands.