The most important holiday celebrated in Hong Kong is just around the corner! In Asian culture, Lunar New Year signifies a new beginning that occurs on the new moon of the first lunar month. This year, it will fall on 22 January 2023, welcoming the year of the rabbit. Rituals and traditions spanning a 15-day period mark the holiday, also called Spring Festival, but how exactly do we celebrate Chinese New Year in Hong Kong?

Meet family and relatives (and feast!)

family reunion during lunar new year
Family gathering for Chinese New Year (© Tomwang112 via Canva)

No Chinese holiday is without a family gathering and heaps of food to feast on together! The most important gathering happens on the eve of the lunar new year, which falls on 21 January 2023 this year. At least two generations unite and create a warm, upbeat atmosphere that sets the tone for a new year full of new beginnings. Connecting with loved ones is a reminder of the constant support we have that grounds us as we grow.

Clean your house as a sign of a new beginning

lunar new year treats in clean home
Clean home and festive snacks in preparation for Lunar New Year (© HyggeLab Concept via Unsplash)

It’s time to declutter! Chinese New Year is the time to clean out your space, dusting away dirt and debris and making room for a breath of fresh air. Cleaning house is symbolic of getting rid of bad luck from the previous year that may hinder fresh, new energy. Do note that cleaning must be done before the eve of the holiday because doing so during the holiday may sweep out incoming good luck!

Decorate your house with god banners and couplets

red spring couplet banners
Chinese couplets for Lunar New Year (© RoBeDeRo via Canva)

Seeing red? Red is a lucky and auspicious colour for Chinese New Year. Red represents good luck, passion and prosperity. Chinese legend also explains how red decoration scared away a demon from massacring a village, so the colour is also symbolic of warding off evil and negative energy. Thus, people hang up red adornments like spring couplets, fai chun (揮春) which are characters for good luck and prosperity traditionally hand-painted on a square or rectangle paper and hung on the door, and lanterns at the entrance of their homes to ward off bad energy and welcome the good.

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The Cultural Guide To Hungry Ghost Festival, When Spirits Wander The Living Realm

Chinese New Year couplets are hung at the entrance of homes. These couplets showcase beautifully written Chinese calligraphy that express sincere wishes of blessing. And to no one’s surprise, they are written against a red background. Similarly, door god banners act as a protective guardian for the home. The banners normally come in pairs, always facing each other, to ward off evil.

Give lucky red envelopes

chinese new year lai see
Red envelopes or laisee in Hong Kong are given during Chinese New Year (© Jason Leung via Unsplash)

A very important Lunar New Year tradition is red envelopes, commonly known as lai see, which are filled with money and gifted to people. Typically, married couples gift lai see packets to children and unmarried ones. The amount of money ranges from a few dollars to significantly bigger amounts depending on your relationship with the person. Upon exchange, both parties wish blessings for each other (e.g. good health and wealth). It’s also common for employers to gift red packets to staff as a token of gratitude for their work.

Exchange gifts with loved ones, especially fruits or rice cakes

year cake or nin gau for chinese new year
Sliced nian gao fried with egg coating (© Bonchan via Canva)

Chinese New Year is a time for people to visit the homes of relatives and friends, but it’s never done empty-handed. Besides red packets, food is probably the number one most common gift. Culinary gifts range from glutinous rice cakes (nian gao, 年糕) made of glutinous rice flour representing a higher position in life and fruit baskets representing fulfilment and wealth, to sweet festive treats like candied fruits representing an easy and fruitful year filled with abundance ahead.

Watch dragon and lion dances

lunar new year dragon dance
Lunar new year dragon dance in Alva Hotel, Shatin (© The HK HUB)

There’s no better way to kick-start the festivities than with the loud and boisterous dragon and lion dances. The dances punctuated with clanging from drums and cymbals parade the streets, malls, and even offices. They’re performed to bring good luck and prosperity. The costume is often worn by four or more dancers gliding and moving the creature’s head vigorously to affect a realistic lion or dragon. The more dancers, the longer the creature’s body and the more luck it represents. Have a brush with the mighty beast!

See also
Cultural Guide To The Meaning & Celebration Of Winter Solstice Festival In Hong Kong

Set off fireworks and watch firecrackers

hong kong fireworks victoria harbour
Lunar New Year fireworks over Victoria Harbour (© Dennis Wong)

Though you won’t be seeing fireworks and firecrackers set off this year, much of the noise that comes with Chinese New Year stems from this traditional practice. Legend has it that the noise from fireworks and firecrackers scared off the mythical beast from the legend about the endangered villagers. So, the louder it gets, the better. The debris left from the firecrackers is left on the ground to avoid sweeping away any good luck that comes from the display.

Note: Lunar New Year fireworks have been cancelled for the fourth year in a row.

Visit Lunar New Year fairs

Lunar New Year Fair in hong kong
A Lunar New Year Fair during Chinese New Year (© Leung Cho Pan via Canva)

There are usually a number of Lunar New Year fairs around the city, but unfortunately, they will not take place this year. People visit these fairs that are scattered across town to partake in the festive spirit. They are normally open air markets flooded with stalls selling Chinese New Year décor, trinkets, flowers, candy, and snacks. It’s a fiery sight to see with lots of red that fits the highly fuelled aura of the atmosphere.

Pray to deities at temples

wong tai sin temple decorations with lanterns
Wong Tai Sin temple is decorated – and busy – during Chinese festivals (© The HK HUB)

At the start of Chinese New Year, people visit temples to pay respect to their chosen deities. One popular temple is Wong Tai Sin Temple. There, worshippers express gratitude and ask for various wishes from various gods. Among them include career advancements, good health, finding true love, and earning more money. Some people shake numbered fortune sticks in a cup or tube on bended knees, a fortune-telling practice known as kau chim (求籤). The sticks that fall out of the cylinder highlight things to expect in the upcoming year.

See also
Your Complete Guide To Giving Lai See (Red Envelopes) During Chinese New Year

Make offerings to ancestors

tomb sweeping hong kong chai wan
Cleaning late relatives’ tombs at Chai Wan cemetery (© Sgerbic via WikiCommons)

In addition to visiting temples, people pay their ancestors and passed loved ones a visit at tombstones. During most festive celebrations in Hong Kong, one shall never forget about paying respect to friends and relatives that have passed on. Similar to never showing up empty-handed when visiting someone’s home, tomb visitors bring fruits, flowers, and foods to place in front of the tomb as they light incense sticks and bow in respect. Some people also have small shrines dedicated to relatives in their homes, where they pay their respects during major festivals in the same way.

Light lanterns, especially during Lantern Festival

colourful lanterns for lunar new year
 Colourful lantern shop (© The HK HUB)

A festival within a festival? How about it! On the last day of the 15-day Chinese New Year holiday, people in Hong Kong celebrate the Lantern Festival. The festival lights the way for a fortunate path during the year and also honours peace, forgiveness and reconciliation. On a religious note, for those who practice Buddhism, the lit lanterns are a tribute to Buddha. The lanterns also come in animal shapes, especially the zodiac animal of the year! The vivid, contemplative display is the perfect way to mark the end of the holiday.

Buy new clothes

chinese new year decorations in lee garden
Lee Garden display for Chinese New Year 2022 (© Hysan Development Company)

The Lunar New Year emphasizes newness. Before the holiday officially begins, expect shopping malls to be jam-packed with people scurrying to buy new things. In particular, new clothes are a must. To wear a fresh set of clothes on the first day of the holiday symbolizes starting on a clean slate. Something noteworthy to mention is to never buy shoes. The word “shoes” has similar pronunciation to the word “rough” and the exasperated exclamation “Hai!” in Chinese, so buying them potentially brings bad luck.

Buy plants that bring prosperity and luck for the new year

solanum mammosum and mini mandarin tree
Solanum mammosum and dwarf mandarin tree (© The HK HUB)

Fresh plants and flowers are bought for Chinese New Year. Not only do they represent fresh starts, certain flowers have auspicious meanings. Orchids are popular flowers to gift as they represent abundance, luxury, and for those who want children, fertility. They make for beautiful home décor and come in various colours. Mandarins and kumquats are the most common fruits seen in plant-like form and are usually placed at the front of homes. They represent abundance, prosperity, wealth, and unity.

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Header image credits: Kumruen via Canva

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A hermit at heart, Agnes likes to connect with the world across various platforms that share a wealth of content on beauty, culture, lifestyle, and travel. She loves using the art of language to portray her voice and poor sense of humour whenever possible. When she’s not nerding around or head deep into a piece, you’re sure to find her spending time outdoors with friends and family or going down the Pinterest rabbit hole to find all sorts of inspiration she can!

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