The Chinese New Year is the highlight of the Hong Kong Cultural calendar. It’s a time of lavish fireworks, a world-famous night street parade, elaborate banquets and glittering illuminations. Symbolizing prosperity and unity, while invoking good fortune for the year ahead, this festival is cherished and celebrated across the city.
In the weeks leading up to the event (which takes place February 5-8 this year, ushering in the Year of the Pig) Hong Kong is abuzz with activity as people prepare for the holiday and visitors can catch the atmosphere. Visitors do not have to look hard (or at all!) to find a lion dance, a colourful, noisy and athletic display aimed at frightening away evil spirits and bringing good luck. Many hotels have a lion troupe performing in the lobby while, in the traditional villages, the troupe moves from house to house in the rhythmic ceremony. Everywhere there will be glorious flower arrangements, firecrackers, red and gold envelopes containing good luck mottos and money, and a wide variety of sumptuous banquets especially created for the festival.
But how do the locals celebrate? They plan to get together with family and friends, they bring glorious flowers into their newly-cleaned homes, they prepare traditional foods, and exchange lai see, the red and gold ‘good luck’ envelopes containing mottos and money. But the celebrations are not the same for every Hong Kong resident. Some always visit the Lam Tsuen Wishing Trees in Tai Po, where the carnival atmosphere is enhanced by colourful floats, food stalls and wishes are written on joss paper and thrown at the wishing trees.
For any resident involved with a Dragon Lion Dance Team, the New Year is the busiest time, full of rehearsals and a packed schedule of performances. Some residents spend a lot of time preparing food, others love to eat out, especially at Duen Kee Chinese Restaurant in Tsuen Wan or at the Chi Lin Nunnery in Kowloon that offers delicious vegetarian dim sum. A number of people who are an energetic hike up Hong Kong’s tallest mountain, Tai Mo Shan, on the first morning of every Lunar New Year. Other lovers of the outdoors hike around the beautiful Tai Tam Reservoir or enjoy nature at Hoi Ha Wan Marine Park.
Many locals visit the fabulous flower markets, most watch the exciting New Year parade and the dazzling fireworks. Exploring the city’s street art in Central and Sheung Wan is popular with those desiring a city walk and some unique photographs. Or visitors can join the locals and explore the week-end markets at D2 Place, or book a lavish afternoon tea at the Peninsula Hotel or indulge in the authentic Chinese buffet served at the Happy Valley Racecourse. Everyone, whether local resident or visitor, eagerly awaits the New Year and the opportunity to celebrate love, friendship and all the good things in life.
Kung hei fat choy -- "Wishing you success and prosperity!" It is unlikely any visitor to Hong Kong during the days celebrating the Lunar New Year could leave without hearing this traditional greeting!
While the New Year is a Hong Kong’s highlight, the city brims with traditional celebrations all year long, so visitors can witness or participate in a unique cultural celebration in all the seasons. Here are just a few of those festivals.
Spring sees the celebrations marking the Birthday of Tin Hau, Goddess of the Sea and patron saint of fishermen. On her birthday, locals and their visitors flock to the more than 70 temples dedicated to her to pray for safety, security, fine weather and full fishing nets during the coming year.
Then comes the Cheung Chau Bun Festival when, every year, the people of the island of Cheung Chau get busy making papier-mâché effigies of deities, preparing costumes, baking buns and building a bamboo tower. They’re preparing for the thousands of people that will soon descend upon their tiny island for what Time.com has described as one of the world's 'Top 10 Quirky Local Festivals'.
A special birthday is also marked in Spring. It’s the birthday of the Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, which is also called the Buddha Bathing Festival. It is one of the most spiritual and unique festivals celebrated in Hong Kong. According to legend, nine dragons sprayed water on the baby Buddha to bathe him at birth. Today, on his birthday, devotees gather at Buddhist temples everywhere to bathe his statues; it’s a ritual that is believed to aid in the purification of one’s own soul. The grandest of these ceremonies are held at the gracious Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island, home of the vast statue of the Big Buddha.
The year moves on and soon it’s time for the Dragon Boat Festival, a riotous, three-day party of colour and heart-pounding sound created from an ancient Chinese festival under the spectacular modern skyline of Victoria Harbour. The people gather to enjoy boats, beers and the cheers of hundreds of thousands of spectators. Only Hong Kong could take an ancient Chinese tradition and transform it into a modern sport and international party.
Soon, as its name reveals, comes the Mid-Autumn Festival, a time when families gather to celebrate unity and share special foods, including mooncakes, whose shape symbolizes unity. Highly urbanized Hong Kong celebrates this holiday in style with its characteristic penchant for fusing tradition with innovation.
And each traditional event is interspersed with other fabulous Hong Kong events, including sports, horse racing, food and wine festivals and a wide variety of international cultural events. No matter which season is chosen, excitement is always in the air in Hong Kong, but for every potential visitor, it’s worth marking the Chinese New Year on the calendar for an experience unlike any other.
For more information on Hong Kong’s living cultures, visit: DiscoverHongKong.com/ca.