The cracking of fireworks, beating of drums, clanging of cymbals, shouting of people, everywhere ... what occasion would cause such a conglomeration of people in the heart of Chinatown? It is the atmosphere of the celebration of Lunar New Year, which is celebrated in the lunar calendar (commonly known as Chinese New Year) which typically falls within the months of January or February. As for this year, which is the year of the Tiger, Lunar New Year is on February 1, 2022. Lunar New Year is celebrated in China, Vietnam, Singapore, South Korea, Malaysia, Philippines, Cambodia, as well as in other heavily Asian populated countries.
Along with an array of festivities, special foods, based on Cantonese customs, are prepared to compliment the celebration. One of the more common dishes you'll come across during this time period is Lunar New Year pudding, also known as gau. Gau is made with mochi flour and sugar, and is topped with a red date. According to tradition, this particular dish symbolizes a family sticking together and the date adorned on top signifies good luck. Another food that is commonly consumed during this time is the vegetarian New Year dish known as jai. This dish is made of fat choy (black seaweed) and tofu and represents the abundance of wealth. Additional ingredients include gum choy (gold lily flower) representing gold, and peanuts and chee gu (arrow root) representing fertility. Complimenting gua and jai is a dish known as jin dui which is a Chinese mochi doughnut. Made of mochi rice and sugar, jin dui symbolizes family expansion. It represents that everybody is well fed with abundance. This dish is coated with sesame which symbolizes many children. And then there is tong go which translates to Chinese sweet meat. Tong go are dried vegetables and fruits covered with a layer of sugar. This Chinese treat represents starting the new year with sweetness.
While the food can be enjoyed by everyone, it is the children who really look forward to Lunar New Year celebrations. This is due to a commonly practiced Chinese tradition which involves the receiving of the hung bao, also known as the lai see, which translates to red pocket. It is customary for children to visit older family members and close friends to bai leen which is the well-wishing of New Year and spring greetings. In return for their well wishes, older family members and friends award the juniors by giving them a lai see.
A delight for people of all ages is the Chinese lion dance, one most famous and widely practiced Chinese traditions. In Chinatown during Lunar New Year, martial arts (mainly kung fu) schools can be seen performing their lion dances throughout the streets. The lion dancers practice according to a Chinese tradition called choy chiang which translates to "plucking the green." Choy chiang is performed as a business blessing. Chinese people believe that the Chinese lion will chase away any evil spirits or bad luck that might linger from the previous year. When performed, their business can open for the New Year on the right note.
To experience Lunar New Year festivities, head on down to your nearest Chinatown or Asian plaza and enjoy some of our amazing dishes! The ancient Chinese secret to success and happiness is all about the food.
This article was written by Kameron Au-Stout, WSHB's Chief Financial Officer. It is a piece published in 1996 for a local Hawaiian publication. It has been updated and revised for the current year and has now been republished on our website in honor and celebration of Lunar New Year. Thank you Kam for sharing this piece with us!
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.