Chinese New Year in Hong Kong is right around the corner. If you’re a relative newcomer to HK and not sure exactly what to expect during this huge holiday on the annual calendar, check out our guide to Chinese New Year traditions, symbols and festivals in Hong Kong.
Giving lai-see packets (in person or electronically)
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. If you’d like to give physical cash in a packet, be sure to 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!)
Rather than a physical gift, this year is the ideal time to send your colleague or family member a virtual packet instead. In fact, for 2021, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) is encouraging people to use electronic channels for lai-sees; to this end, various banks and e-payment operators offer fun and convenient ways to exchange money. Better for public health, and good for the environment, too!
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 a tree so that it can collect on the branches, remaining there for your wish to come true. This year, you’ll have to make do with using your own tree – or your favourite potted plant! – as the famous Lam Tsuen Wishing Trees in Tai Po are barricaded to the public as part of pandemic restrictions.
You will inevitably experience at least one lion dance during Chinese New Year, though for 2021 the number of dances has had to be curtailed because of pandemic restrictions. Traditionally, 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’s 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”
Typically, people would visit the Victoria Park CNY Flower Market to grace their home and office with some Chinese New Year flora. Lucky feng shui plants include 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).
Be sure to check the latest updates on the status of the flower markets this year, as there have been quite a few changes in the light of pandemic restrictions.
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 and receiving oranges during home visits
If it were a year when COVID-19 wasn’t inconveniencing all of us, visits to homes would be a common thing during Chinese New Year, and often 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 at this time, present a pair of oranges (or pairs) to the head of household. They’ll then exchange these as a gesture of good will during the festive period.
Launching wishing lanterns (we wish!)
It’s customary during the first full moon of the Lunar Year – which signifies the end of Chinese New Year – for colourful lanterns to be launched into the night sky. People write wishes on the lanterns before they rise in a blaze of glory. Unfortunately, the Lantern Carnival and auspicious lantern display at Tsim Sha Tsui’s Hong Kong Cultural Centre Piazza is another victim of the pandemic. We’re sure the display in 2022 will be especially dazzling!
Check out our cultural calendar for more insights on living in Hong Kong