It’s not Chinese New Year
First of all to be politically correct, it’s not Chinese New Year, it’s Lunar New Year. Lunar New Year is celebrated by Korea, Mongolia, Tibet and Vietnam, together with related communities around the world. As a matter of fact, the Chinese lay no exclusive claims to it either. Chinese call it 農歷新年 Agricultural Calendar New Year or otherwise 春節 Spring Festival.
Lunar New Year is an important occasion, with China getting as much as 5 days off (I remember a time when it was actually 10 days). Hong Kong gets “only” 3 days. For Chinese people, New Year celebrations technically go for 15 days, so we are nonetheless shortchanged by modernity!
Gong Hei Fat Choi!!
As far as greetings go, I notice Hong Kong people tend to favor 恭喜發財 (Cantonese: gong hei fat choi/Mandarin: gong xi fa cai) or “Hope You’ll Strike It Rich!”, reflecting Hong Kong’s primary passion as a financial center. On the other hand, I hear the “traditional” 新年快樂 or Happy New Year much more often in China. Other common wishes include 身體健康 for good health and 萬事如意 which literally translates to “many things as you wish”.
Serial Eating Ensures
This is the minimum “required” set of meals (and yes, there’s a lot of eating and a lot of great food):
- New Year’s Eve dinner, 團年飯 “Year Gathering Meal”
- New Year’s Brunch, 開年飯 “Year Opening Meal”, on the Second Day
- New Year’s dinner at the in-laws (if married), also on the Second Day
And on the Third Day
The Third Day is called 赤口, literally “red mouth”. One shouldn’t visit anyone on this day because tradition believes that arguments are more likely to occur on this day. A lot of people in Hong Kong go to a temple called 車公廟 (or General Che’s Temple) to pray for good fortunes in year ahead. General Che was a general in the Song dynasty (960 to 1279AD) who put down an uprising in southern China and subsequently escorted the last Song emperor while being chased all the way to the water’s edge in Hong Kong by Mongol armies (the emperor eventually hung himself in Hong Kong). The general’s real claim to fame however came several hundred years later when a temple erected in his name in Hong Kong was credited for stopping an epidemic.
Tourists who came to Hong Kong hoping to see the stereotypical firecracker scene is bound to be disappointed. Firecrackers and other explosives were banned by the British Colonial government after the 1967 leftist riots in Hong Kong. Fortunately firecrackers are legal in Macau (an hour away by boat) all year around and in China during the New Year.
When it comes to those little red envelopes, called 利是 (lei see) in Cantonese or 红包 (hong bao) in Mandarin, there are certain rules to it. 利是 generally goes only from married people to unmarried people. (Some bachelors/bachelorettes chose to avoid these occasions as they are invariably accompanied by inquiries about relationships.) You will also see 利是 going from senior members of the family/company to the more junior members of the family/company regardless of marital status. Gainfully employed adults also give 利是 to their parents and their grandparents as a way to give them more liquidity during the festivities.
Word of Caution If You are Moving Here
Lastly if you are relocating to Hong Kong around the Lunar New Year, it might be difficult getting a vacated flat. Traditionalists believe that one shouldn’t move during the entire first lunar month, so you might have to wait a little longer if there’s a existing tenant in your apartment of choice.
So here we go, I hope this helps you gain a bit more insight into the one of most important festivals in the Asian culture. I am happy to take questions!
- Chinese New Year Gallery (jshroot.wordpress.com)
- AP PHOTOS: Celebrating Lunar New Year around world (cnsnews.com)
- Lunar New Year and Valentine’s Day means flowers everywhere! (meanwhileinchinanews.com)
- Year of the Snake: Celebrations around the world ring in the Chinese New Year (news.nationalpost.com)
If you like this, please support this Guide by SUBSCRIBING (“Subscribe” button on the top right) and getting notifications of the latest posts by email. Otherwise, you can also connect via Business Life Asia Facebook page or the Google+ page! Thanks!!