By Ka Wing Wong
Chinese New Year celebrations are always a spectacle with vibrant festivities sweeping across the world at the start of each year. The best way I can try to explain to foreigners how important Chinese New Year in Hong Kong is, is to imagine it is like Christmas. And how do the locals celebrate Chinese New Year? Just like Christmas, it’s also family-oriented with feasts, gifts and decor. So here’s my guide, so you can celebrate Chinese New Year like a local in Hong Kong! Technically, New Year should start on the 1st January every year, but Chinese people are not on the same page as the rest of the world, and our calendar is calculated slightly differently. Hence, we celebrate Chinese New Year either in late January or February. Chinese people strongly believe whether or not it is going to be a good year all comes down to if they have followed tradition and stuck to all the rules. So, read on to discover our Chinese New Year traditions and how most of the locals celebrate!
Three Days Before New Year’s Day (年廿八)
Getting fully prepared is everything! This makes the three days before New Year’s Day the busiest day for every household. First things first, as we prepare to celebrate Chinese New Year, we thoroughly sweep the entire house, sweeping all the bad luck away so as to embrace the good. Coincidentally, the is also the best opportunity to send your kids to do some chores! Each family member will be responsible for cleaning different parts of the house, like the kitchen, bathroom and the living room but the most important area will be the front door, which should be spotless and dust-free. Part of our Chinese New Year tradition is to repaint the door gate, since our front door gives people the first impression of our home and we believe a polished front draws good luck and wealth to the house.
Three Days Before New Year’s Day (年廿八)
Next, we decorate the place red; we put up couplets on the walls of the house with messages like “May your home be filled with opulence” in the living room, “May all your wishes come true” in the bedroom and “Wishing you safety always wherever you go” at the front door. Cleaning done, we move on to the food as we prepare to celebrate Chinese New Year. A lot of guests will be coming to our house in the coming days, so we have to make sure we will have enough sweets, assorted seeds and gold coin chocolate for the “Candy Box”. The meaning behind placing a “Candy Box” in the house is hoping that everyone will get happiness from eating sweets, and rich from eating chocolate that’s shaped like gold. So, if you are planning to travel to Hong Kong during the Chinese New Year, I hope you have the opportunity to indulge in these sweets and find your happiness and prosperity!
New Year’s Eve (年三十晩)
It’s the night before Chinese New Year in Hong Kong and we have finished cleaning the house. Part of the Chinese New year tradition is to refrain from using mops or brooms in the house after midnight when the next day has arrived – New Year’s Day. Any more cleaning after this point represents giving away all your luck and money in the coming year, and we don’t want that! This rule also applies to showering and brushing our teeth, but don’t worry, the seal will be broken once it’s passed midnight of New Year’s Day.
All of the main Chinese New Year celebrations happen at night. There’s the reunion dinner, where every family member goes back to their parents’ house, spending some quality time together and having a lavish dinner, and the dishes we cook represent goals we want to achieve in the coming year. In our language, there are some words that share the same or similar pronunciations, and we want the origin of Chinese New Year’s dishes to have good meaning - a cool part of the Chinese New Year traditions. Therefore, we choose ingredients that have these similar pronunciations to match the indication behind each of the dishes. For instance, dried oysters with dried black moss「髮菜蠔豉」is very similar to the way we say「發財好市」, which means “make a fortune and start out strong of your business in the next year”.
New Year’s Eve (年三十晩)
There is one particular Chinese New Year tradition for tonight’s dinner we need to comply with, which is to store some leftovers in the fridge for the next year. In Chinese, we call it 「年年有餘」, hoping we don’t come down to a point where we have to spend every last penny from our purse. After dinner, glutinous rice balls will be served as dessert, as we want family to always stick together just like the characteristic of glutinous rice itself – sticky! The fillings inside are usually sesame and peanut paste. Before going to bed, children will get “lucky money”, which is money that’s put inside a red envelope from their parents. With “lucky money” being put into their pillowcase, children will then be saved from evil spirits in the next year. The power of love! Now, make sure you get some good rest because we need to get up early for Chinese New Year in Hong Kong!
New Year’s Day (年初一)
Rise and Shine! Chinese New Year celebrations have not ended yet. Go clean up and greet your family and seniors. Rock your new clothes and shoes! We are starting fresh for the first day of the year. There is a Chinese New Year tradition called “Villain hitting”, we believe we can kick out bad people in our life with our enchanted new shoes, so remember to make every step strong! Today is also a day to watch your language too, as every word coming from your mouth should be positive, so definitely no cursing! Also, wish your neighbours and security guards from your apartment building a very good new year! Okay, enough with the manners! What to eat in celebration of Chinese New Year? We pan fry some glutinous rice cake, turnip cake, taro cake and water chestnut cake. Again, the pronunciation of cake in Chinese「糕」 is same as the way we say 「高」which literally means “rise up”, as we want that new height in every aspect of our life, whether it’s school, business or relationships. For the rest of the day, some of us will celebrate Chinese New Year by going to the Wong Tai Sin Temple to pray for good luck and make wishes for ourselves and our family. For those believers, they will have a more important task to do, the task to express gratitude and pay tribute to their gods for looking after them and granting their wishes at last year.
Visiting a fortune-teller is also something people will not miss when they are at Wong Tai Sin Temple to celebrate Chinese New Year in Hong Kong. We will lay out our palms to the fortune tellers who will then analyse our fate and give us advice on how to dodge some of the incidents which may occur in the future. Aren’t we superstitious? Still, the decision of following or having your life under your control will be yours to make. Some of us will choose a more relaxed way to celebrate Chinese New Year. We may just stay at home watching some Chinese New Year’s programs, listening to some Chinese New Year’s songs and reading how our zodiac signs are doing in the new year- another Chinese New Year tradition. Chinese zodiacs are represented by twelve animals and what animal you are depends on what year you were born in. As we change the ‘zodiac of the year’ every year, the one thing we need to pay attention to is will your own zodiac be fighting against this year’s zodiac? If this is the situation you’ve found yourself facing this year, fear not! Listen to what the Feng Shui masters have to say, they are always here to save the day by simply telling you which colours you should wear, which elements to strengthen, what to put in your house. Phew! Cancel out the impact from this year’s zodiac just like that!
2nd Day Of Chinese New Year
But there’s no rest yet! The second day of Chinese New Year celebrations is usually the day we go over to our relatives’ houses to send out our New Year’s greetings and blessings. There’s no way that you’re going to visit someone empty handed - what’ll you need are gifts and red pocket money. Let me first talk about the gifts we can buy for this Chinese New Year tradition; it’s a no brainer almost every local would love a box of Kjeldsens Butter Cookies from Denmark and Ferrero Rocher from Italy. As for the real business, the red pocket money! So the rules about red pocket money: first, only children and unmarried adults will be entitled to receive red pocket money. Second, married couples have to give out red pocket money and if you are bosses at the same time, you’ll also have to prepare some for your workers. Finally, always bless those who gave you red pocket money by saying things like “Gong Hay Faat Choy”. Other choices are “San Tai Gin Hong” when we would like to wish people good health, and “Sam Soeng Si Sing”, a phrase to wish peoples’ dreams come true.
2nd Day Of Chinese New Year
After all of these duties done, it’s entertainment time! Part of our Chinese New Year celebrations include one of the greatest Chinese inventions – Mahjong, a typical game that will be played in Chinese New Year. And for Chinese New Year, the louder the better! All the yelling and laughing from intensity of the game are just perfect for celebrating! When it comes to Chinese New Year celebrations Hong Kong, we keep the volume up into the night and ready for the fireworks. The fireworks display will be at Victoria Harbour, which is why a massive crowd will show up along at the harbour front at Tsim Sha Tusi waiting for the fireworks. Later, locals will make their way to the Chinese New Year’s Market. It’s the biggest market of the year, and is where you can learn the most about Chinese New Year’s traditions and customs, especially relating to this year’s zodiac. Plus, it’s the best place to buy cherry blossom and other Chinese New Year’s flowers and plants. However, if you want to avoid the shoulder to shoulder situation of being squeezed in with so many other people, it’s better not to go at night.
3rd day of Chinese New Year（年初三，赤口）
Things are finally slowing down when it gets to day number three of Chinese New Year celebrations. The third day, what we call “Chec Hao”「赤口」, is the day we easily get into arguments or pick a fight, which is why we take a break from visiting relatives and friends, as you know wherever there are people, there are gossips! Finally the Chinese New year tradition of paying attention to what you have to say no longer applies - you can let it all off your chest now! What a relief for those who can’t sugar coat before they speak! If you’d rather not to stay at home today or you find yourself still feeling energetic somehow after the two past days of madness, you can spend your day at Che Kung Temple, turning the windmill inside the temple clockwise to boost your luck. Or do you want to test your luck to see whether it’s a good year waiting ahead? You can try betting on horse racing. Unsurprisingly, the atmosphere in Happy Valley Racecourse is not a let down and it’s even more crowded than usual race days. What’s more, The Hong Kong Jockey Club will hand out a souvenir just for the entrance of that day. Good luck to the gamblers is all I have to say! I can’t leave without saying “Gong Hay Faat Choy”, can I? And I wish everyone an amazing new year!
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