The historical significance of Chinese New Year is rooted in vibrant lore. Legend holds that in ancient times, the mythical animal Nian would attack villages each New Year’s Eve after waking from a year’s slumber. As the story goes, one year, Nian came upon a village where several buffalo boys were engaging in a whip-cracking competition. The monster was so frightened by the explosive sounds that he fled to another village, only to be met with another startling scenario: a line of bright red clothes hanging to dry. Fleeing in terror once again, he happened upon a third village where he peeked in the crack of a door. Inside, the image of a bright burning candle dizzied him into a frenzy.
The annual celebration of Chinese New Year has grown out of this tradition of superstition. For thousands of years since, the Chinese have hung crimson-colored lanterns to scare away the beast, giving the occasion its iconic color. Especially on the first day of the New Year, loud firecrackers, drums, and cymbals echo through the city, while fireworks and burning bamboo sticks keep the sky ablaze—all to keep the mythical Nian at bay.
Chinese New Year – Feasting with Family
Chinese New Year is a rejoicing of economic vitality and renewal. The country’s economy has been born out of a rich agricultural tradition, and the Spring festival marks the most auspicious time of year to set the intention for the upcoming planting and harvest. As such, it is also a time for family reunion, where all can come together and face the future with unity and optimism.
The time for family is New Year’s Eve, with traditional feasting on sweet soup with dumplings, fish balls, noodles, and fried cakes. If you have friends who are locals, don’t feel shy to ask them if you can join their family dinner. You’ll see lots of little red envelopespassed from the elders to the young ones—gifts for the New Year. After dinner, many visit the fragrant flower markets at Victoria Park in Causeway Bay, or Fa Hui Park in Sham Shui Po in Kowloon. If you’re planning to give presents (a popular thing to do), the chrysanthemum signifies longevity, the peach blossom is associated with luck, and the kumquat trees embody prosperity.
This is also a time to honor one’s elders. On New Year’s Day, many pray for prosperity at the Man Mo Temple or even see a fortune-teller, a Hong Kong CNY tradition. There’s even a two-week Well-Wishing festival at Lam Tsuen in Tai Po. Here, you’ll jot down your wishes on a piece of paper, tie it to an orange, and throw it up into an artificial tree. The higher the fruit lands on the tree, the more likely it is that your wishes will come true!
Fireworks & Lucky Money
In the evening, a parade snakes through Tsim Sha Tsui with a few dozen floats and a wealth of performers. Revelers pack nearby restaurants and bars in the Central, Hollywood and SoHo districts of Hong Kong (the ideal place to spend Chinese New Years). Lan Kwai Fong Road is particularly popular with the young and fashionable. While everything is generally walkable, don’t be surprised if you have to do some serious stair climbing. Part of Hong Kong’s charm is in its verticality.
The highlight of your Hong Kong CNY experience will undoubtedly be the fireworks display over Victoria Harbor. The best viewing spots include the new Tim Ma Park right on the waterfront, the Avenue of the Stars in Kowloon side across from Hong Kong Island, and on Victoria Peak where you can take in the show’s entirety from a different height. Taking a cab to the top of the mountain isn’t very expensive, but it may take you some time if you do it at the last minute. The bottom line: narrow streets and a whole lot of people.
The third day of Chinese New Year, called Lucky Money Day, is more focused on how to accelerate your prosperity. Less visually spectacular than previous days, this day is instead host to a crowning event of a different notoriety: the year’s largest horse races at the Sha Tin course.