A guide to Chinese New Year customs in Hong Kong

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10th February 2024 – (Hong Kong) As the Lunar Calendar ushers in a new cycle, Hong Kong is awash with the exuberance of Chinese New Year festivities. This period, rich with tradition and culture, offers a tapestry of customs that promise good fortune and joy. For those looking to partake in the celebrations, a familiarity with these practices is essential to ensure a prosperous year ahead.

Welcoming the year with sartorial freshness, it is customary to don new attire, with a preference for the colour red, an emblem of luck and vitality. This extends to undergarments, a subtle embrace of auspiciousness from the inside out.

A pre-New Year thorough cleaning of one’s abode is not just about tidiness but is symbolic of casting out the old year’s misfortunes, thus making room for incoming luck and prosperity.

Central to the celebration is the ‘chuen hap’, a snack box embodying unity and completeness. Housing an odd number of compartments, it is filled with sweets and snacks, each bearing a significant and hopeful meaning for the new year.

The New Year’s Eve is marked by a family reunion over a lavish feast, featuring dishes like ‘poon choi’, a layered casserole symbolising fortune, and ingredients such as ‘fat choy’ and oysters, which are associated with wealth.

The exchange of ‘lai see’, the iconic red packets, not only spreads joy but is a token of good wishes, with recipients often placing them under pillows to fend off malevolent spirits.

At Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin Temple, the burning of incense sticks is more than a ritual; it’s a race to secure divine favour for the year. The faithful believe the earliest offerings bring the greatest blessings, leading to an early morning congregation at the temple. The Che Kung Temple also attracts crowds seeking celestial goodwill. Here, spinning a copper windmill and drawing fortune sticks are acts believed to court luck, while a lucky pinwheel from the temple is considered a harbinger of good fortune to one’s home.

The Lam Tsuen Well-Wishing Festival continues the tradition of aspiration, where wishes are cast upon trees, a physical manifestation of hopes for the year ahead.

Certain practices are shunned during the New Year, believed to attract ill-fortune. For instance, hanging clothes to dry on New Year’s Eve is thought to beckon evil spirits. Abstaining from washing hair, doing laundry, and sweeping the floor on the first day is crucial, as these actions are thought to expel prosperity from the house.

Dietary customs also dictate restraint, with meat, congee, and medicine being avoided on the first day to prevent ill omens. The third day is notorious for potential disputes; hence, it is advised to keep interactions harmonious to maintain the New Year’s tranquil spirit.

Purchasing books or shoes during this period is considered inauspicious due to phonetic associations with loss or sighing in Cantonese, symbolic of inviting defeat or lament into the new year. Similarly, the colours black and white are avoided in attire, as they are traditionally linked to mourning. Haircuts are postponed during the New Year, the word ‘hair’ phonetically echoing ‘fortune’ in Cantonese, with a cut perceived as diminishing one’s prosperity.

Finally, patience with ‘lai see’ is a virtue; opening red packets is reserved for the seventh or fifteenth day, as delayed gratification is believed to amplify the year’s fortune.