What happens during the Chinese New Year holiday?

Tree decorated for Chinese New Year
You know Chinese New Year is approaching with all the decorations

With the blink of an eye, we are approaching the Chinese New Year again this year on February 8. With many Asian cultures, from Japanese to Chinese people, they celebrate the Lunar New Year among their own cultures as well, each with their own traditions and festivities.

You may be wondering why the public holiday extends for 3 days from February 8-10 in Hong Kong for Chinese New Year. If you ask the local Hong Kong people, they are so busy throughout the Chinese New Year, they are tired out by the time they return to work. A lot of time is spent on preparing food, decorating the home, and buying gifts to bring to relatives and friends.

Immerse yourself in the local culture

Family time

Chinese New Year is a time where you can see how family time is prioritized. People spend less time with friends as the married people go home to see their families if they don’t live with them already. For those who have relatives or parents in China, Taiwan or another country, they spend the New Year’s holiday there or go for a visit to see their relatives.

Families checking out Chinese New Year decorations together
Families checking out Chinese New Year decorations together

For Chinese New Year’s Eve, which is February 7 this year, families have a reunion meal to celebrate the year. There will be dishes, such as fish, which is a homophone for abundance, to represent that each year there is an abundance of blessings and money. This evolved from times when people were still farming and would celebrating their harvest from the past year. Since everyone prepares to be at home to have dinner with family, some offices in Hong Kong let their employees off early so they can go home and prepare. By about 7pm, you will notice the MTR stations are empty as everyone is already at home spending time with family and having dinner. You will probably wonder what has happened to all the people in Hong Kong, but this is one of the times you can actually see how family is prioritized in Hong Kong and people aren’t out spending time with friends and milling about.

Empty MTR station around New Year's time
Empty MTR station around New Year’s time

On Chinese New Year’s Day, families get together for the first day of the new year to have their first meal of the year together and have breakfast. There are many symbolic vegetarian dishes to represent good fortune, luck and prosperity. Since the first day of the new year is representative of the rest of the year, families are careful of what they say and do. Being with family is important and generally everyone spends the entire first day of the new year with family playing games at home, such as mahjong, and the children play cards and board games.

Sharing good fortune with relatives and close friends

For the first 14 days of the new year, people go visit the homes of friends and family. They bring red envelopes that are filled with money to give to the unmarried children to wish them good luck, fortune, health, and well-being. In return the children respond by saying a good luck phrase, generally related to good health, happiness, and fortune. Along with the red envelopes people usually bring gifts, such as cookies, chocolates, and fruits as well. Common fruits include oranges which symbolize abundant happiness and tangerines with leaves still attached which represents the relationship between the giver and receiver is secure.

Praying to the gods and ancestors

Each family has their own traditions, but generally prior to the Chinese New Year’s Eve dinner and the Chinese New Year breakfast, families pray to the gods and ancestors if they have the setup to pray at home, which could include statues of the gods and plaques representing the ancestors of the family. Praying to the gods and ancestors on Chinese New Year’s Eve would be to thank them for their protection and well-wishes during the past year. Praying in the new year is to wish for good fortune, health, and prosperity in the coming year for the family. Then each individual prays on their own for items more related to themselves, which include school, career, love life, etc.

On the third day of the New Year, families will go to temples, such as Che Kung Temple and Wong Tai Sin, to pray to the gods. Besides praying to the gods at the temple, families can get auspicious tokens for their family to carry.

Temple adorned with lights with well-wishes for families
Temple adorned with lights with well-wishes for families

Chinese New Year is a time for families to gather together and review the past year and look forward to the coming year with festivities to celebrate that. With all that happens, it seems 3 days off almost does not feel like enough time

Thanks for reading. Stayed tuned for other Hong Kong related articles posted every week! 

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