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Chinese New Year is one of Hong Kong’s biggest celebrations. Whether you’re spending the holiday at home with family and other loved ones or celebrating the festival’s traditions around the city, there are numerous CNY customs and etiquette that you should familiarise yourself with for a new, prosperous year ahead.
Having a chuen hap, a CNY snack box, at home is a must for entertaining guests during Chinese New Year. Symbolising ‘togetherness’ and ‘perfection’, a chuen hap typically has an odd number of compartments filled with treats that have auspicious meanings. There are eight types of traditional sweets you will often find in a chuen hap, such as candied lotus seed, which symbolises the bearing of children; winter melon candy, which represents having a good year from start to finish; as well as savoury and fried snacks like melon seeds, deep-fried sesame balls, and yau gok (deep-fried dumplings) that are all associated with prosperity.
Traditionally, families gather on the eve of CNY for a sumptuous meal and enjoy festive dishes such as poon choi, a traditional Cantonese casserole filled with layers of ingredients that symbolise luck and fortune, as well as foods associated with wealth such as fat choy (black moss) and dried oysters.
It is customary for elders, bosses, and those who are married to give out lai see, aka red packets, during CNY, so be sure to brush up on your Chinese New Year greetings and wish them a prosperous year to come. Red packets filled with lucky money would also be given to children to place under their pillows in order to ward off evil spirits and wish for a healthy new year.
Take part in one of the city’s biggest CNY traditions at Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin Temple. It is believed that those who enter the temple first and make an offering to the gods by burning the inaugural incense sticks will receive the biggest of blessings. Thus, crowds of worshippers gather at the temple in the early morning of Chinese New Year’s Day to pray for a new fortuitous year.
Apart from Wong Tai Sin temple, many Hong Kong locals also visit Che Kung Temple in Sha Tin on the second and third day of CNY to worship, burn incense, draw fortune sticks, and turn the copper windmill (in a clockwise direction) to attract good luck. Don’t forget to also pick up a lucky pinwheel to carry home good fortune!
An age-old tradition of Chinese New Year in Hong Kong, the Lam Tsuen Well-Wishing Festival attracts a sea of people every year to write their wishes on a placard, tie it to a mandarin, and throw it onto the wishing tree for a blessed new year.
Do away with the old and wear new clothes for CNY as it symbolises a fresh beginning to the year. And since the colour red represents luck and positivity, many choose to wear red clothes, and sometimes even underwear, to help usher in an auspicious year.
It is said that if you put your clothes out to dry on the eve of Chinese New Year, it will lure in evil spirits and bad luck.
Stay dry on the first day of the Lunar New Year as it is thought to be bad luck to wash your hair, do the laundry, or sweep the floor as your good fortune will be washed or swept away!
One should also be careful about what they eat during CNY. Many folks choose not to eat meat on New Year’s Day as it is considered taboo to kill animals on the first day of the year. Congee should also be avoided as it was deemed as a common meal for those less fortunate in ancient times. Lastly, avoid taking any medicine on New Year’s Day as it is also thought to be bad luck.
The third day of CNY is said to be a day when arguments are likely to occur, hence, most people opt to stay home and not visit any friends or family to avoid squabbling with anyone.
It may be lucky to buy and wear new clothes for the new year, but avoid purchasing shoes as the Cantonese word for ‘shoe’ sounds the same as when we are sighing, which is considered to be very unlucky during Chinese New Year.
Choose your outfit wisely for CNY and avoid the colours black and white as they are often associated with grief and mourning.
It is not advised to cut your hair during Chinese New Year as the word ‘hair’ sounds similar to ‘fortune’ in Cantonese, so going to the salon for a cut or trim would be like cutting your wealth short for the new year.
No matter how tempting it might be to rip open your red packets, it is widely believed that one should only open them on the seventh day or 15th day of CNY because being patient for your fortune makes for a more prosperous year to come.
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