According to ancient Chinese legend, a mythical beast named “Year” rises from the sea on the Eve of Chinese New Year, to wreak havoc on people, animals and properties.
With the body of an ox and the head of a lion, it has been said that the vicious beast had only two fears – the colour red, and explosive noises.
To bolster their spirits, families would hang red Duilian (long, vertical streamers with poetic sayings) in their doorways, and for protection, the streets were decorated with red hanging lanterns. As a final assault, the setting off of firecrackers would cast the beast away for good.
Today, Chinese New Year is the most celebrated holiday in China and Hong Kong; a time when families gather to reflect on the year that was, and to celebrate upcoming prosperity in the new year. Lasting fifteen days, the holiday is celebrated far and wide, with parades and festivals to mark the occasion.
Although China follows the Gregorian calendar for business purposes, the dates for Chinese New Year are determined by the Chinese calendar. Used for centuries, this calendar follows the Chinese Lunar Cycle.
An exciting time to visit Hong Kong, this is what you can expect during this uplifting fifteen day celebration.
Chinese New Year’s Eve
After the traditional spring clean of the house, red Duilian banners are dutifully hung around homes and businesses, wishing luck and prosperity for the new year ahead. This is followed by a huge family feast, often served family style in centre of the table.
Post supper, an evening stroll to the flower market, or the lighting of an incense at popular temples such as Wong Tai Sin Temple (2 Chuk Yuen Village, Wong Tai Sin, Kowloon) is a popular way to burn off the excess calories.
Chinese New Year’s Day (Day 1 of the new year)
The first day of the new year is reserved for visiting extended family, and for stopping by a temple to pay respects to passed family members. But, come evening time, it’s time to line the streets of Hong Kong for the traditional International Chinese New Year Night Parade (see below), a highlight of the CNY calendar.
Day two is when married daughters’ traditionally return to their family home for a meal with her parents. Come the evening, the night sky is set ablaze with a spectacular firework display over Victoria Harbour.
Day three is named ‘Chec Hao’, and considered the most likely day you will get into a family disagreement. So, to keep their cool, most people will visit a calming temple such as Che Kung Temple (7 Che Kung Miu Rd, Tai Wai). Another favourite past time is to hit the race track at Sha Tin Racecourse.
With Hong Kong businesses closed day one to three of the new year, it’s back-to-business on day four with shutter doors rolling up and the famed shopping districts and markets once again filled with locals and tourists.
Day seven of Chinese New Year, or ‘Yen Yat’, is widely considered the common man’s birthday with, you guessed it, a day to celebrate with friends and family over more delicious local cuisine.
The last day of Chinese New Year is Spring Lantern Festival, a colourful and festive day marking the end of new year. Streets, homes and parks are filled with beautiful hanging lantern displays, with traditional performances found around the city. Be sure to wonder the streets and marvel at the sheer beauty this festival brings.
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Chinese New Year favourite foods
If you’re yet to visit Hong Kong, then you may have guessed by now that food plays a huge part in the Chinese culture. During the new year period, some foods are a staple on the family table, and served in restaurants everywhere.
Black Moss – The Cantonese name is ‘fat choi’, which sounds like ‘prosperity’. This interesting food is a type of photosynthetic bacteria, that is used as a vegetable in Chinese cuisine.
Dried Oysters – The Chinese name is ‘ho si’, which sounds similar to ‘good business’.
Steamed glutinous rice cake – In Chinese, ‘glutinous rice cake’ is phonetically close to ‘higher year’, meaning that eating steamed glutinous rice cake each year symbolises raising oneself higher.
Braised Black Moss pig’s trotter – We’re not sure how, but this gourmet dish represents receiving unexpected income. Maybe by good fortune ‘trotting’ to you?
Tongyuen – the name of these sweet rice balls sound like ‘reunion’ in Cantonese, a pertinent part of what Chinese New Year stands for.
One of Hong Kong’s most anticipated events of the year, the International Chinese New Year Night Parade sparks the night alive with performances by local and international performers on colourful floats, singing and dancing their way through the city streets to the joy of spectators.
Locals and visitors from around the world line the streets to get a glimpse of the spectacle, or you can purchase tickets to various grand stand areas for optimal viewing.
The parade runs along the main streets of Tsim Sha Tsui, moving along the popular Canton Road, Haiphong Road and Nathan Road.
More CNY events in Hong Kong
As new year festivities run for two weeks, there are plenty of activities to be enjoyed. Horse racing is always a big day in Hong Kong, with traditional lion dances and singing performances throughout the day at Sha Tin Racecourse.
Flower markets are a sight to behold. Parks and gardens come alive with the colours and aromas of orchids and other beautiful blooms, with plenty of other stalls to keep you entertained. Fifteen parks and playgrounds across the islands come alive for this family favourite event.
The Well Wishing Festival attract countless onlookers and participants to Lam Tsuen each year, where the tradition of throwing placards of good wishes onto the wishing tree, and the lighting of wishing lanterns take place.
The Cantonese Opera perform 12 shows in one day, by 26 celebrated Cantonese opera artists. This extravaganza showcases some of the best in opera highlights to celebrate the Lunar New Year.
The Great European Carnival is a traditional carnival show with fun rides, stalls and games of skill for all the family.
The Hong Kong Arts Festival is an annual festival showcasing an array of music, opera, drama and dance performances, both traditional and contemporary. Various performances are held around the city.
Hong Kong may not jump to mind immediately when you think of equestrian sport, but Masters of Hong Kong is an exhilarating day of show-jumping competitions.
After all the feasts and festivities and parades, it’s easy to see how the beast “Year” is tamed year after year. What the firecrackers and scarlet lanterns and decorated streamers really represent, are joy, passion and introspection. What better way could there be to defeat a monster?
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