Undoubtedly Hong Kong’s biggest holiday celebration, Chinese New Year in the city is not unlike Christmas in the west, full of traditions and customs; a feast of food, locking horns with family members and frantic gift giving. While the roots of the festival are in the farmers harvest, these days Chinese New Year is a general excuse for a celebration of family and friends. People spend their days on a regimental timetable of family visits, spruced up by the myriad of events and celebrations held around the city. Below are some of the main Chinese New Year traditions and customs in Hong Kong.
Possibly the only time of the year that Hong Kong’s shops bring down their shutters, Chinese New year can play havoc with tourist itineraries, with most of the city going into shutdown.
The official holidays for Lunar New Year in 2012 are January, 23th to 25th, with most shops shut for the first two days, many independent retailers will close there doors for the full week. Most tourist attractions will close only on the first and in some cases the second days, hoping to take advantage of people’s free time. On the plus side, bars and clubs will be open and be busy, as businesses look to snap up the tourist and expat trade, while the city will also be home to a buffet selection of top class events.
Those traveling onto China should be forewarned that Chinese New Year witnesses the world’s largest human migration and it will be nigh on impossible to get a seat on planes, trains or automobiles in the country. Outside the major cities, the country will resemble a ghosttown for a full week.
City in Flower
Hong Kong is perpetually doused in a riot of color, however with the onset of Chinese New Year the city is decorated in a fresh coat of color. From skyscraper sized neon signs, to the red ribbons draped throughout the streets, perhaps the brightest and best colors come from Hong Kong’s flower markets.
The ‘big day’ for the flower market is Chinese New Year’s Eve, when the city’s biggest flower market at Victoria Park will be swarming with people looking to pick up prize bouquets. The flowers are said to give good luck and are given when visiting family for the traditional New Years Eve feast of chicken and fish.
One of the more solemn duties of the Chinese New Year celebrations is for families to drop into their local temples. Chinese New year is riddled with superstitions and Hong Kongers believe that a stop at the temple is the perfect way to curry favor with the deities inside and bring luck for the year ahead. Traditionally, families pop into the temple on the mornings of the first and second days.
Even if you don’t want to bag some luck for the year to come, the temples are one of the best places to see Chinese New Year in action. The intense mixture of noise, smells and sights is intoxicating, and without formal services people are generally free to come in and look around. You should however be sensitive to photographing worshippers.
Chinese New year sees the city go into a frenzy of present giving, from workers receiving their bonuses to the handing out of Hong Kong’s iconic Lai See packets. If you’re staying at a hotel for a prolonged time, or eating repeatedly at the same restaurant, your waiter and doorman would certainly appreciate some Lai See, otherwise you won’t need to get involved. Find out what Lai See is and how to give it in our Guide to Hong Kong Lai See.
Meet the Family
While the holiday may revolve around family, day three of Chinese New Year is not the day to see the in-laws. Known as red mouth day, any encounters with family will be rewarded with barroom brawls, as the day in famous for arguments and quarrels.