Six top ways to experience Chinese New Year
by Blake Evans-Pritchard
Chinese New Year is fast approaching and for those that have decided not to jump on a plane or ferry out of Hong Kong, it is time to start thinking about the best way to spend your festive days off. We have put together a short guide of things to do during the New Year break. So Happy Chinese New Year. Kung het fat choi. Welcome to the Year of The Dog.
If you have decided to stay in Hong Kong during Chinese New Year tradition, this is one local custom that you just won't be able to escape.
The idea of the lion dance is to make as much noise as possible in order to drive away evil spirits and monsters (particularly Nian, which according to legend lives in the mountains and comes down at the end of each year to destroy crops and livestock). This is one reason why many Hong Kong companies will invite a lion dance into their offices during working hours.
Men dressed in a lion costume weave through the crowds, whilst those outside bang noisily on large steel drums.
For good luck, the lion will often make a mock attempt at eating a lettuce that is placed before it. The lettuce is considered a fortuitous vegetable because the Cantonese word for this vegetable sounds like the word for ‘alive’ or ‘energy’.
Chinese New Year Night Parade
This annual parade - featuring colourful floats, costumed dancers, marching bands and much more - takes place on the evening before Chinese New Year's day (in 2018, this will be on 16 February, between 8pm and 9.30pm). For the past 19 years, it has been sponsored by Cathay Pacific.
It is free to see the night parade, but remember that the celebrations attract tens of thousands of onlookers and so the streets can get pretty crowded!
The best spots for viewing the parade are in Tsim Sha Tsui, along Nathan Road, Haiphong Road or Canton Road - but you will have to turn up fairly early to get a good spot.
If you want to escape the crowds, you might consider buying a ticket for one of the spectator stands at the Hong Kong Cultural Piazza, which can be purchased at the Hong Kong Tourism Board Visitor Center at the Star Ferry Concourse in Tsim Sha Tsui. Tickets cost between 300 and 480 HKD.
Lunar New Year Fireworks
The Chinese New Year fireworks are arguably the most spectacular firework display of the year, beating even the one hosted on the evening of December 31.
The fireworks illuminate Victoria Harbour and can be viewed all along the coastline on both Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. The show will take place on February 17 - the second day of lunar New Year - and kicks off at 8pm.
You can always stay at home and watch the show on television from the comfort of your living room, but if you do want to venture out the top spots to see the dazzling display are along the Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade (in Kowloon), the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre and Golden Bauhinia Square (in Wan Chai) and Tamar Park (in Admiralty).
Lam Tsuen Wishing Trees
A popular custom during Chinese New Year - and other periods of spiritual significance - is to visit a wishing tree, on which colourful papers bearing wishes — known as bao die — are hung.
The most famous such wishing trees in Hong Kong are in Lam Tsuen, just outside Tai Po Town centre. To get there, take buses 64K or 64P from Tai Po Market MTR station.
In the past, villagers would 'throw' their wishes tied to a weight into the tree. The higher the paper landed the more likely the wish was to come true. But if the wish fell to the ground then it was considered to be ‘too greedy’ and so would not come true.
This traditional custom meant that the tree was colourful all year round, but it wasn't terribly good for the trees.
The local authority has now stopped this practice and instead introduced an imitation plastic tree, upon which the wishes can be freely hung. They can also be tied to a nearby wooden rack.
With the dawning of the Chinese New Year, colourful flower markets erupt all over Hong Kong.
One of the most popular flower markets held at this time can be found in Victoria Park in Causeway Bay and opens a couple of weeks before the start of New Year.
Flower markets in Mong Kok are also popular.
It is around this time that you will notice an explosion of mandarin orange trees all over Hong Kong - these are a symbol of good fortune and prosperity.
Giving Lai See
One of the most important elements of Chinese New Year is the dissemination of small red envelopes of money, known as lai see. This is a way to wish friends and acquaintances good fortune for the year ahead.
As a general rule of thumb, it is common for more senior people to give lai see to their juniors. Traditionally, married people give lai see to single people.
But these are only very general rules. You should give lai see to thank people for the work and service that they have provided: the concierge at the apartment block where you stay or the hairdresser that you regularly go to, for example. If you have one, include your helper in all this generosity, too.
You don’t need to enclose much money — 20 or 50 HKD in each is fine, although there’s no harm in including more if you can afford it. It is very important that the lai see packets contain only crisp new notes and not ones from the previous year, since they are supposed to be symbolising a fresh start for the year ahead. You will see big queues outside banks in the final days before the holiday as people scramble to get their new notes. Get yours early to avoid the lines!
As with many things in Chinese culture, numbers and symbolism play an important part in the amount of money that you should give. For example, don’t give a monetary amount with a four in it, since the word for ‘four’ in Cantonese sounds like ‘death’
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