How to Celebrate the Lunar New Year in Manhattan’s Chinatown

The Year of the Rabbit Begins on January 22. Celebrations will continue for two weeks.

May Yeung Jan 17, 2023

Photos courtesy of Think!Chinatown

My favorite thing about Lunar New Year is that it arrives about a month after New Year’s Day. If you’re into resolutions or new beginnings but had a rocky start the first few weeks of the year, it can act as another date to “reset.” Or, maybe you’re someone who tends to wish people a Happy New Year slightly too late into January — you can pretend you meant the Lunar New Year and enjoy some added worldly cache. 

Lunar New Year occurs on the early side this year — Jan. 22. The date varies since it is based on the lunar calendar. It arrives three-and-a-half moon cycles after the mid-Autumn festival (that same full moon known as the Harvest Moon in the Farmer’s Almanac). Lunar New Year starts with a new moon, and festivities typically continue on for two weeks, also ending with a full moon. 

After things are cleaned, but before the new year arrives, I gleefully add some adorable decorations with the zodiac animal of the year.

For myself and my Chinese family, preparing for the new year means cleaning the home so that it is sparkling by the eve. That provides plenty of fresh surfaces for good luck to land on as the new year arrives overnight. Cleaning on the new year day itself or too soon after is viewed negatively, as if you are dusting away the good luck that just arrived. 

After things are cleaned, but before the new year arrives, I gleefully add some adorable decorations with the zodiac animal of the year. This time, it’s the rabbit. You’ll find plenty of stores throughout Chinatown to purchase rabbit-themed paper cuttings — my favorite places to pick those up are Red Apple Gift Shop at 42 Mott St. and Uni 28 at 28 Bowery St. (which is cash only). 

If you’re looking for something fun to eat, take a note from Yin Kong, Think!Chinatown’s director and co-founder, and order the Salmon Yu Sheng special from New West Malaysia at 69 Bayard St near Columbus Park. It’s served family style and only available at this time of year ($55 Jan. 22–Feb. 4). 

Like with New Years on Jan. 1, many events are on the eve of the new year, though celebrations continue on for two weeks. A great day to stroll through Chinatown is “Super Saturday” on Feb. 4. To get in the action like a local, don your best red apparel and check out an event below, organized by community organizations that do good work year-round. 

Saturday, Jan. 21 

Museum of Chinese in America: Lunar New Year Family Festival
2:30–5:30 p.m. • Free (RSVP recommended; subject to capacity) • 215 Centre St.

There is a wide array of family-friendly activities offered at the Museum of Chinese in America on the eve of the new year. Free storybook readings, arts and crafts tables, and ribbon dancing will be offered at this extravaganza alongside a noodle-pulling demonstration (long noodles are auspicious, since they are connected with long life) and the making of dragon’s beard candy by local chef, Chris Cheung.  

Run For Chinatown: Lunar New Year Midnight 5K
10 p.m. • Free • 274 Grand St.

Get a running start on your Lunar New Year resolution! Run for Chinatown, a running group that started during the pandemic and has since raised over $140,000 to support local organizations and youth programs such as Meals for Unity and Apex for Youth, is hosting a 5K ahead of Midnight Madness (see below.) It’s a friendly group ranging from serious marathon runners to light-joggers. (Stay in touch on their Instagram to learn about their Bridgeathon Lunar New Year closing run.)

Chinese Freemasons Athletic Club: Midnight Madness
11 p.m. • Free  • 211 Canal St.

This annual street performance at the intersection of Mott and Pell streets is the best place to start ringing in the new year. Founded in 1956, the New York Chinese Freemasons Athletic Club has been training Chinatown youth in lion dancing and martial arts for decades. Lunar New Year is its biggest showcase of the year and their specialty is lion-dancing from southern China, with heavy use of drums and firecrackers (loud noises scare away the bad spirits).

Sunday, Jan. 22

Chinese Freemasons Athletic Club: Lion Dancing 
All day • Free • Throughout Chinatown

You don’t have to stay up until midnight to see the lion dance; just stroll through Chinatown and follow the sound of drums and firecrackers to find the Chinese Freemasons Athletic Club at it again. They will be spreading good luck and prosperity to local businesses, taking their drums with them to drive out the bad spirits and make way for good luck. Business owners, in turn, pop out to offer the lions red envelopes to keep the luck flowing.

Think!Chinatown: Lantern Reveal 
11 a.m.–1 p.m. • Free • Newsstand at Mosco St. & Mott St.

At the corner of Mosco and Mott streets, catch the newest “lantern-in-residence” from Think!Chinatown hanging about at the newsstand. If you’ve attended Think!Chinatown’s outdoor events before (they organize the night market and arts fest, with a particular interest in showcasing Chinese opera), there is a good chance you’ve seen their last lantern-in-residence — human-sized with space to store surprise goodies — bopping about. Lanterns are traditionally lit and raised on the fifteenth day of Lunar New Year as a conclusion to the celebrations. Expect to see this one again on Super Saturday and throughout the new year. 

Jan. 28 & 29

Welcome2Chinatown: Lunar New Year Fair
Free • Broadway Mall 

Since the closing of dim sum restaurant 88 Palace during the pandemic, the East Broadway Mall has gotten a little sad. Smaller shops continue to operate from the mall, but this fair will bring in a different kind of energy featuring a new generation of Asian-American business owners including Yu and Me Books, Nguyen Coffee Supply and Lunar Hard Seltzer, which offers flavors such as lychee, yuzu and Korean plum. 

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