Growing up, I celebrated all Western holidays, with the thought of the Chinese New Year never crossing my mind. The idea of a “lunar new year” and a Chinese zodiac was definitely intriguing but in all honesty, I can’t even remember at what point I learned of its existence. However, I will never forget my first year celebrating it.
I hopped on a plane two weeks after my university graduation, moving from my apartment surrounded by cornfields in the USA to an apartment surrounded by high-rises in Hong Kong. While you can expect sensory overload daily here in Hong Kong, the Chinese New Year truly knocks your senses out of the park. Bright red and gold colours of the New Year decorations that spread throughout the city to the buzzing Lunar New Year Fairs and New Year Parades, the invigorating scene with firecrackers snapping and crackling, musicians playing Chinese traditional music, and the bustle of crowds in the streets, to the tempting fragrances of seasonal goodies being sold on the streets. Hong Kong is a beautiful place to experience this Asian holiday.
This year the Chinese New Year begins on January 22nd and it’s an official public holiday in those countries who celebrate the Lunar New Year. Unlike the Gregorian calendar, which begins from the 1st of January, Chinese people mark their calendars by the lunar cycle. Every year begins with the start of a new moon. Although dated differently every year, one can expect the festivities to occur between the 21st of January and the 20th of February.
Every year in the Lunar Calendar is named after one of the 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac. The Chinese zodiac consists of 12 animals: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig. Every animal has a year devoted to them cyclically. New Year 2023 will be known as the year of the Rabbit.
Since moving to Hong Kong, I have temporarily given up celebrating my customary Western holidays in favour of some new holidays rich with culture and spirit. While I do still love Christmas or Thanksgiving and look forward to properly celebrating them once again, I have fallen in love with celebrating Chinese New Year, and it has quickly become my new favourite holiday.
Here are five reasons why I love celebrating Chinese New Year:
1. New Year Shopping
In the days leading up to Chinese New Year, colourful markets pop up for selling holiday goods and flowers. Many of the large parks are transformed into these “Lunar New Year Fairs,” These are great places to visit and experience how locals get ready for the festivities ahead.
My favourite activity? Trying to find an auspicious flower to keep in our home for the new year. One year, our plant promptly died weeks after bringing it home. Wouldn’t you know, that was one of the worst years for me ever! Let’s hope the plant I pick this year does a little better.
2. Reuniting with Family is an Important Chinese New Year Tradition
As with most holidays around the world, “family” is an important aspect. On Chinese New Year’s Eve, families gather together for a reunion dinner of sorts.
Most Hong Kong residents eat dinner relatively late, between 8-10 p.m, so often the Lunar New Year is rung in talking with family and eating auspicious foods.
New Year’s traditions are many when visiting with relatives. Decorated red envelopes called “lai see” filled with money are gifted to those younger than you with great joy. These red packets of money are always presented in pairs of two envelopes.
This brings me to my next favourite thing of all.
3. Delicious Foods for the New Year Celebrations
Food plays a large role in almost all Chinese festivals, and the Chinese New Year is no different. There are traditional Chinese foods considered particularly lucky that are eaten explicitly during this time of year.
One would say “gung hei fat choi” as new year greetings to wish someone a happy New Year in Hong Kong. So of course, eating “fat choi” or black moss is a popular New Year dish. Another item consumed during New Year’s is “tang yuan” which phonetically sounds close to the word “reunion”. Each member of a family often eats this sweet dumpling at the end of the annual reunion dinner.
4. Seeking Good Fortune in the New Lunar Year
On the first day of Chinese New Year, many people visit temples to pray for good fortune in the New Year. You will find people burning incense and purchasing colourful pinwheels that are believed to turn obstacles into opportunity at large temples across Hong Kong.
If you are planning a visit, be sure to research what time you should go. There are set “auspicious hours” and hours that you should avoid that correlate with your Chinese zodiac.
5. Colourful Events
In Hong Kong, a holiday is never complete without a few over-the-top events. There will be grand fireworks displays, electric night parades, thrilling horse races, and lion and dragon dances galore. During the 15 days of Chinese New Year, there will always be something fun going on somewhere. Even tourist attractions and theme parks set up special Chinese New Year activities, and while it’s possible to experience a lot of the events, it would be nearly impossible to see and do all. Each year I look forward to experiencing all the things I couldn’t fit in last year!
So as we say in Hong Kong—Gung Hei Fat Choi!
Happy Chinese New Year to you and may you be prosperous this year!
Originally from Chicago, Beth Williams of Travels in Translation, got her first true taste of travel when she studied abroad in Japan during her final year of university. She ended up loving Asia so much, she found herself moving right back upon graduation and is currently living in Hong Kong. Armed with her camera and a passion for travel, she is on a mission to photograph the world– proving that you can work the normal “9-5” and still find time to travel.
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