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Chinese New Year traditions: do’s and don’ts

Time Out Hong Kong
  • Written by Time Out Hong Kong
Celebrate Chinese New Year with favourite holiday traditions and snacks.

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 Chinese New Year customs and etiquette that you should familiarise yourself with for a new, prosperous year ahead.

DO’S

Embrace these customs that are believed to bring good luck and prosperity in the new year.

New clothes for the New Year

New clothes for the New Year

Do away with the old and wear new clothes for Chinese New Year 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.

Spring clean before the New Year

Cleaning the home before Chinese New Year signifies a fresh start, welcoming the new year with a clean and harmonious environment. It is believed that by making the house spotless, you are removing any lingering bad luck or negative energy from the previous year, making space for good fortune and prosperity to enter your home in the coming year.

Prepare a chuen hap

Having a chuen hap, a Chinese New Year 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.

Family and friends gather at Chinese New Year to enjoy festive dishes like poon choi, fat choy, and oysters.

Enjoy a festive feast

Traditionally, families gather on the eve of Chinese New Year 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.

Spread holiday cheer with lai see, or red packets.

Receive lai see

It is customary for elders, bosses, and those who are married to give out lai see, aka red packets, during Chinese New Year, 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.

Receive blessings by burning incense sticks at Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin Temple during the new year.

Burn incense sticks at Wong Tai Sin temple

Take part in one of the city’s biggest Chinese New Year 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.

Receive blessings by burning incense sticks at Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin Temple during the new year.

Visit Che Kung Temple

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 Chinese New Year 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!

Make a wish for the new year at the Lam Tsuen Well-Wishing Festival.

Make a wish at the Lam Tsuen Well-Wishing Festival

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.

DON’TS

You may want to steer clear of these traditions that are typically avoided to ward off bad luck during the new year.

Hang your clothes to dry

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.

 

Wash your hair and clothes or sweep the floor

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!

 

Eat meat, congee, or medicine

One should also be careful about what they eat during Chinese New Year. 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.

 

Feud on the third day

The third day of Chinese New Year is said to be a day when arguments are likely to occur, so it would be wise to be mindful and avoid squabbling with anyone.

 

Buy new books or shoes

It is considered unlucky to buy or give books or purchase shoes during Chinese New Year. In Cantonese, the word 'book' sounds similar to 'lose' or 'defeat,' while 'shoe' sounds like sighing, both of which are associated with bad luck.

 

Wear black and white clothing

Choose your outfit wisely for Chinese New Year and avoid the colours black and white as they are often associated with grief and mourning.

 

Cut your hair

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.

 

Open your lai see early

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 Chinese New Year because being patient for your fortune makes for a more prosperous year to come.

Celebrate Chinese New Year in Hong Kong like never before!
Explore more festivities
Celebrate Chinese New Year in Hong Kong like never before!
Explore more festivities

Information in this article is subject to change without advance notice. Please contact the relevant product or service providers for enquiries.

The Hong Kong Tourism Board disclaims any liability as to the quality or fitness for purpose of third party products and services; and makes no representation or warranty as to the accuracy, adequacy or reliability of any information contained herein.


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