Jan 16, 2012

Celebrating Chinese New Year in Hong Kong

“Kung hei fat choy” is the traditional New Year greeting; it means, “Wishing you success and prosperity.” This year Chinese New Year celebrating begins on January 23 – the Year of the Dragon. A few years ago we were in Hong Kong during Chinese New Year. Chinese New Year is like our Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year celebrations all rolled into one. It is a time to give thanks, celebrate with the family, and look forward to a new year with optimism.

Hong Kong has one of the most elaborate Chinese New Year Celebrations. Most of the modern skyscrapers, some of which are 30 stories high that line the harbor have huge neon holiday decorations on the harbor side. Like all holidays Chinese New Year is set in tradition. Houses are cleaned to a fare-thee-well and decorated with flowers. Families visit the flower market to get a kumquat or tangerine tree, which would be like a Christmas tree in the Western world. Kumquats and tangerines are considered symbols of good luck because they are golden, the color that signifies money. The word for tangerine in Chinese has the same sound as the Chinese word for "luck." The most common flower for Chinese New Year is the narcissus. If it blossoms on New Year’s day, it is an indication of good fortune. Every facet of Chinese New Year has a special meaning.

Like Western holidays it is traditional for the whole family to gather for a huge meal with fish being the most important food because the Chinese word for fish sounds like the word for abundance. During Chinese New Year it is traditional to give children red envelopes with money inside. These are called lai see envelopes which means “lucky.”

On New Year’s morning we awoke at the Langham Hotel to find a red silk bag on our doorknob filled with New Year goodies - traditional candies and gold covered chocolate coins. To usher in the year there was a Lion Dance in the lobby to bring good luck and happiness in the New Year. The Lion (two people in a lion costume) danced around to the beat of large drums and clanging of cymbals to drive away evil spirits. One of the most amazing aspects of the performance occurred when the lion had to stand on his back legs and jump up to reach pieces of lettuce that were hanging from the high ceiling. The word lettuce sounds like money in Chinese. The lion dance has been popular for over 1000 years and most neighborhoods have similar version.

Hong Kong hosts a magnificent parade, which can be watched in a traditional manner from the street, but we were lucky enough to get tickets for the finale. For more than an hour the marching and performing units from a variety of countries paraded through the arena pausing to put on a short performance. The next night we joined thousands of people along the waterfront to watch the amazing fireworks.

Essentially all business comes to a halt during Chinese New Year, which lasts well over a week. Even though there are many public celebrations, for the Chinese New Year’s week is a time for family and for some the only vacation of the year. We were fortunate to be able to ring in the new year twice – once in the US and once in Hong Kong.