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Lahaina Restoration Foundation to celebrate Chinese traditions and culture

By Staff | Jan 27, 2011

Chinese knot tying will be demonstrated at the Chinese New Year celebration next week Friday from 1 to 8 p.m. at the Wo Hing Museum.

LAHAINA — Chinese immigrants flocked to Lahaina in the mid-1800s with a dream of finding fortune and goodwill.

Lahaina Restoration Foundation (LRF) will continue the traditions of this culture by celebrating their most treasured event at the only Chinese museum in Hawaii next week Friday, Feb. 4.

Join LRF in welcoming the Year of the Rabbit from 1 to 8 p.m. at the Wo Hing Museum, 858 Front St. Admission to the museum is free for this special event.

All are invited to join in this annual celebration, as Lahaina Restoration Foundation hosts a day of celebration and education.

Festivities will include children’s arts and crafts; demonstrations on Chinese knot tying, Qigong and Tai Chi; an ancient Chinese currency presentation; and talk story sessions on the significance of Chinese New Year, the history of the Wo Hing Society and Chinese revolutionist Sun Yet-Sen’s time on Maui.

Year of the Rabbit calendar posters will also be available for purchase.

According to LRF, Chinese history in Lahaina predates the whalers and missionaries.

Lahaina once had a Chinatown atmosphere with multiple merchants and restaurants.

In 1909, Chinese residents living in Lahaina formed the Wo Hing Society, a branch of the Chee Kung Tong, a fraternal society with chapters around the world.

And in 1912, using private donations, the society built a two-story temple on Front Street — now home to the museum — that served as a fraternal and social meeting hall. It housed a sacred altar room on the second floor for religious ceremonies.

Wo Hing Museum docent Busaba Yip explained that the Wo Hing Society has celebrated Chinese New Year since the 1900s.

“The origin of Chinese New Year is itself centuries old and gains significance because of several myths and traditions. Ancient Chinese New Year is a reflection on how the people behaved and what they believed in the most,” Yip noted.

“Chinese New Year is a time for the gathering of family and friends. Traditionally, it signifies the end of the farming year and the beginning of the new season. It is a celebration of springtime. This is important, as China is largely an agricultural country, and the lives of people are closely tied to the cycle of planting and harvesting.”

The date of New Year’s Day, determined by the lunar calendar, usually lands between Jan. 21 and Feb. 20. This year, it falls on Feb. 3.

“It’s the year of the Golden Rabbit, the third sign of the 12 animals cycle. The diplomatic, softhearted rabbit brings new energies to the world, and we welcome a year of tranquility and harmony. It is a time to rest and prepare for future opportunities and abundance — and also challenges,” Yip commented.

Among many other Chinese traditions, in the two weeks before New Year’s Day, the entire house is cleaned, debts are paid off and grudges are forgiven, so that nothing carries over and the new year can begin with a good start.

“For the individual, it is a time to reflect on the events of the past year and plan for the future,” she said.

The celebration continues for two weeks after New Year’s Day in a time to socialize and visit friends and relatives.

Married couples hand out “Lai See” or “Hong Bao,” a red envelope containing money, to their children to give them a good start for the year and teach them to save money and manage it wisely.

And, as seen in celebrations around Hawaii, each community organizes a lion dance accompanied by drums, gongs and firecrackers to scare away evil spirits.

“This brings prosperity to all the shops and happiness to the people,” Yip explained.

“Chinese New Year is considered a major holiday for the Chinese and has had influence on… our cultures, values and beliefs.”

Traditionally, the Chinese year follows a lunar calendar, with each year represented by an animal.

According to legend, Buddha summoned all the animals of the forest, but only 12 answered. To honor these animals, Buddha named each year according to the order in which each creature appeared.

“After a year of overcoming strenuous situations and hard work (Year of the Tiger), we gladly welcome The Year of the Rabbit,” LRF noted.

“This new year will bring rest and relaxation, a peaceful lifestyle and a great focus on family, security and relationships. The Rabbit is a sign of luck and also the symbol of the moon, representing one half of the day. When in conjunction with the Peacock, the symbol of the sun, these two signs signify day and night, the Yin and Yang of life.”

For more information on the event, contact the Lahaina Restoration Foundation office at 661-3262 or visit www.lahainarestoration.org.