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Guide to Chinese New Year traditions

Chinese New Year in Hong Kong is right around the corner, but you’re not sure what to do, or what to expect during what is the biggest holiday on the Hong Kong calendar. Before you get left out in the cold, empty-handed, check out our expat guide to Chinese New Year traditions, symbols and festivals in Hong Kong.

Chinese New Year - guide to traditions
CNY guide to traditions and gifts

Giving lai see packets

Generally, a senior gives lai see to a junior; bosses to staff, parents to children, married couples to single friends. Lai see packets are red and gold for prosperity and good luck. Make sure you get to the bank early to get your glad hands on new notes to give. Never give any amount with 4 in it (in Chinese, this sounds like “death”) or odd numbers, as these are considered bad luck. Try to avoid giving multiple notes – one is fine. Proper amounts for children are $20, and for doormen/waiters/service staff, $100 is a kind gesture (unless they’re your helper – you might want to pitch in more!)

Lai See
Pretty red lai see packets

Wishing trees

During Chinese New Year, write your new year’s wishes on a piece of paper tied to a string that’s attached to an orange. Toss this over the tree so that it can collect on the branches, remaining there for your wish to come true.

Lion Dance for Chinese New Year
You will not miss a lion dance for Chinese New Year – they’re everwhere!

Lion dances

You will inevitably experience at least one lion dance during Chinese New Year. Lion dance troupes dance away for the two weeks of Chinese New Year, accompanied by a cacophony of drums and firecrackers. These are to scare away the bad spirits of the past year, ensuring luck and prosperity for the coming year.

Get a haircut, manicure and pedicure before CNY

It is considered bad luck to cut anything during Chinese New Year, so getting a haircut beforehand is a must. Salons usually charge a premium for services during this period, so if you haven’t already, get thee to the barber, stat!

Choosing “lucky plants”

Visit Victoria Park CNY Flower Market to grace your home and office with the Chinese New Year feng shui of lucky plants such as bamboo (luck), cherry blossoms (new beginnings, freshness, innocence), Mandarin orange trees (prosperity), peonies (love and romance, female beauty), orchids (perfection, abundance, purity), pussy willows (growth, prosperity), and daffodils (wealth, fortune).

Clean your home

Before Chinese New Year, thoroughly clean your home of all the accumulated bad luck from the previous year, clearing space for the good fortune of the upcoming year. This ensures a fresh start on the new lunar new year. Cleaning and clearing away during Chinese New Year is a no-no, so don’t get these mixed up!

Then, decorate your home

Choose themes in red and gold to signify happiness, good luck and prosperity. Fill your home with lucky plants, mystic knots (good luck, protection), goldfish (abundance, prosperity), pineapples (wealth, fortune, prosperity; sounds like “good luck coming your way” in Chinese), and place nine oranges in the lounge or kitchen (good luck, prosperity; citrus guards against bad luck).

Giving oranges for Chinese New Year
Giving a bit of wealth for the new year

Giving and receiving oranges during home visits

Visits to homes during Chinese New Year are usually accompanied by the exchange of tangerines and oranges. The Chinese words for tangerine and orange sound like “luck” and “wealth”, and it is considered rude to ring up at anyone’s home during CNY empty handed. When you arrive at someone’s home during this time, present a pair of oranges (or pairs) to the head of household. They will then exchange these as a gesture of good will during the festive period.

Lantern Festival

Launching wishing lanterns during the Lantern Festival

Held during the first full moon of the Lunar Year, signifying the end of Chinese New Year, colourful lanterns are launched into the night sky. It is usually customary to write wishes on the lanterns before they rise in a blaze of glory. Check out the Lantern Carnival and auspicious lantern display at Tsim Sha Tsui’s Hong Kong Cultural Centre Piazza.

There you go. Now you’re ready to celebrate Chinese New Year traditions in Hong Kong without bumbling around!

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