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Chinese New Year Rituals in Hong Kong

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By LUXE City Guides

With its lavish fireworks, world-famous street parade, elaborate banquets and glittering illuminations, Chinese New Year is a highlight of the Hong Kong calendar. Symbolising prosperity and unity, while invoking good fortune for the year ahead, the spring festival is cherished and celebrated across the city.

In the weeks leading up to the event (which takes place 5-7 Feb in 2019) Hong Kong is abuzz with activity as people prep for the holiday by cleaning and decorating their homes and offices, stuffing lai see envelopes and arranging the all-important reunion dinners. We chat to four Hongkongers about their Chinese New Year rituals.

Cyrus Lam, buyer at local department store

Cyrus Lam, buyer at local department store

Cyrus Lam, buyer at local department store

For Cyrus, the true essence of Chinese New Year is the family reunion, “no matter how busy or how far away, the whole family will try their best to get together, give each other blessings, and welcome a brand new start,” she says. The first few days of the holiday are always spent with relatives congregating for a New Year Feast.

In the past, Cyrus who’s in her 30s, would stay home to help with the massive cleaning operation undertaken before the year’s end, “getting rid of the old to make room for the new” and take a traditional Chinese ritualistic bath, which involves washing with pomelo leaf to remove both physical dirt and evil influences. Yet as she ages, Cyrus no longer thinks getting “new” is important. “I no longer see it as a ‘must’ to buy new clothes or have elaborate feasts” she says, adding: “it’s also good to see more and more Hong Kong people start to think green by reusing lai see packets.”

Another tradition practiced by Cyrus and her family is visiting Lam Tsuen Wishing Trees in Tai Po; a centuries-old enclave of auspicious trees, where devotees traditionally scribbled wishes onto joss paper, then threw them at the trees. Today, the ancient trunks are protected and joss papers are tied to replicas, while the temple surrounds have a buzzy, carnival atmos enhanced by colourful floats and food stalls. Immensely popular during the New Year holiday, Cyrus recommends planning a trip to Lam Tsuen in advance to avoid peak times and allowing plenty of time to get there.

But should the thought of elbowing your way through the hordes is as appealing as a jab from Bruce Lee, Cyrus suggests visiting Wong Tai Sin Temple or Che Kung Temple, as they too offer auspicious blessings.

Cyrus’ CNY Recommendation: The Night Parade in Tsim Sha Tsui is not to be missed during the festival.

 

Kwok Man-Lung, Leader and Head Coach of Kwok’s Kung Fu & Dragon Lion Dance Team

Kwok Man-Lung, Leader and Head Coach of Kwok’s Kung Fu & Dragon Lion Dance Team

Kwok Man-Lung, Leader and Head Coach of Kwok’s Kung Fu & Dragon Lion Dance Team

While for many the Lunar New Year symbolises a time of celebrating unity and family bonds, for others it’s also their commercial peak. For Master Kwok Man-Lung, martial arts expert, coach and leader of Kwok’s Kung Fu & Dragon Lion Dance Team, the New Year is his busiest period, when a packed schedule of performances earns income to cover the forthcoming year’s expenses.

As a child, the young Master Kwok enjoyed going to rounds of relatives and receiving lai see, and for him the “tuen nin dinner (reunion dinner) was important for family bonding”. As a dragon lion dance master, he swapped these domestic rituals for performances in different shopping malls across the city – this year the team are dancing at SOGO on Lunar New Year’s Day.

Master Kwok’s CNY Recommendation: Don’t miss the spectacular fireworks on the second day of the holiday.

Lunar New Year Fireworks Display

  • February 6, 2019 (2nd day of Lunar New Year)
  • Victoria Habour

 

Nana Chan, Founder of teakha and Plantation by teakha

Nana Chan, Founder of teakha and Plantation by teakha

Nana Chan, Founder of teakha and Plantation by teakha

Growing up in Taiwan, teakha founder Nana Chan loved Chinese New Year – “a festival filled with sparkling firecrackers and traditional customs like wearing red clothes, cleansing oneself and avoiding unlucky words that were believed to drive away good fortune,” she smiles. Nana’s family placed great importance on even the smallest traditions; if someone carelessly uttered the wrong phrase, they’d be admonished with a gentle pat on the face.

Today, Nana still considers Chinese New Year as a time for families to be together. In years when she’s planned a trip overseas, she’ll be sure to spend time with her family for a couple of days beforehand; when in Hong Kong, she’ll help with all the shopping and preparations for the sumptuous reunion dinner.

Nana happily spends much time in the kitchen folding dumplings and cooking traditional Northern Chinese New Year dishes. She enjoys “playing mahjong and watching classic movies and generally celebrating the festival in joy and harmony with my family.”

But it’s not all indoor activities, another ritual for Nana is to fuel up on dim sum at Duen Kee Chinese Restaurant (57-58 Chuen Lung Estate, Route Twisk, Tsuen Wan) in Tsuen Wan then hike up Hong Kong’s tallest mountain, Tai Mo Shan. “I like to climb to the peak on the first morning of every Lunar New Year,” the active tea connoisseur says.

Nana’s CNY Recommendation: Go to Chi Lin Nunnery and try the vegetarian dim sum – it’s delicious.

 

Addison Mok, Secondary School Student

Addison Mok, Secondary School Student

Addison Mok, Secondary School Student

Like any teenager, Addison eagerly awaits Chinese New Year and sees it as the perfect occasion “to celebrate love, friendships and all the good things in life.” Addison’s family engage in numerous rituals throughout the festive period including visits to the flower markets and buying orchids, ceremonial nin-ya-baat cleansing, eating sticky rice dumplings and receiving lai see from family, not to mention refreshing hikes along the trails around Tai Tam Reservoir.

Yet Addison’s highlight of the holiday is visiting his uncle in Mid-levels, to watch the dazzling fireworks display and meet celebrities like the singer Eason Chan and actress Michelle Reis.

In recent years Addison and his friends also set up a stall selling fancy pillows and soft toys at the Lunar New Year’s Eve Fair in Victoria Park. By his own admission, the motivation isn’t money, instead he “sees it as a valuable life experience of running a small business.”

Addison’s recommendation for CNY: Hipsters will enjoy discovering the city’s street art in Central and Sheung Wan, and can join one of the many weekend markets such as that held at D2 Place. Nature lovers will enjoy the abundance of natural life at Hoi Ha Wan Marine Park, while those looking for a more luxurious experience should book the lavish afternoon tea at The Peninsula Hotel. For something more authentic, consider booking the buffet featuring Chinese dishes like poon choi, served at Happy Valley Racecourse.

 

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