Growing up I celebrated all Western holidays, with Chinese New Year never even crossing my mind. In all honesty, I can’t even remember at what point I learned of its existence; however, I will always remember my first year celebrating it.
Two weeks after my university graduation I hopped on a plane, moving from my apartment surrounded by cornfields to an apartment surrounded by high-rises in Hong Kong.
While you can expect sensory overload on a daily basis here, Chinese New Year is truly a feast for your senses. From the bright red and gold colours that spread across the city to the buzzing Lunar New Year Fairs and fragrances of seasonal goodies being sold on the streets, Hong Kong is a wonderful place to experience this holiday.
Since moving here 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 really fallen in love with celebrating Chinese New Year and it has quickly become my new favourite holiday.
Here are 5 reasons why:
1. New Year Shopping
In the days leading up to Chinese New Year, colorful markets pop up for selling holiday goods and flowers, and in Hong Kong, many of the large parks are transformed into these “Lunar New Year Fairs”. These are great places to visit to 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. Last year, our plant promptly died weeks after bringing it home. Wouldn’t you know, last year was one of the worst years for me ever! Let’s just hope the plant I pick this year does a little better.
2. Reuniting with Family
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 people in Hong Kong eat dinner rather late, between 8-10 pm, so often the New Year is rung in talking with family and eating auspicious foods.
Which brings me to my next favourite thing…
3. Delicious Foods
Food plays a large role in almost all Chinese festivals, so of course Chinese New Year is no different. There are foods considered particularly lucky that are specifically eaten during this time of year.
One would say “gung hei fat choi” 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 consumes this sweet dumpling at the end of the annual reunion dinner.
4. Seeking Good Fortune
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 pin wheels said 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. Colorful 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. This 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.