A Gweilo's Guide to Celebrating Chinese New Year 2023 in Hong Kong
January 16, 2023
Whether you dropped down in the Victoria Harbour 25 years ago with eternal hope of your new home, or recently found yourself thriving in the Pearl of the Orient, you may still have not shaken that classic Gweilo identity and perspective of Hong Kong. Not fully clued up on what our Chinese festivals mean or what to do for Hong Kong’s big calendar events? We’re here to help with our Gweilo’s Guide!
What is Chinese New Year? Chinese New Year, alternatively called Spring Festival, is the most important cultural and historical celebration in the Chinese region and amongst the diaspora, ushering in the spring and new year according to the Chinese lunar calendar. If you notice all things red in town, chances are we’re celebrating the New Year!
In Hong Kong, we will be ushering in the Year of Rabbit, a symbol of longevity, peace and prosperity. The period begins on Jan 22 with Lunar New Year’s Day, with celebrations lasting till Jan 25. Most people in the city take the whole week off, so bets are you’re lounging about in Phuket right now thanks to the lengthy public holiday.
What’s the history and meaning behind Chinese New Year? In marking the end of cold winters in Greater China and Asia, Chinese New Year harkens the beginning of a warm and (hopefully!) cash-heavy spring season with it. Dating back to the Shang Dynasty in China, the rituals are aligned with the first day of the new Chinese calendar year, which saw people worshipping gods in hopes of a good harvest over the year to come.
Nowadays in Hong Kong and our neighbouring nations, we treat Chinese New Year as a reset, a space to embrace family, and a time-honoured excuse to be extra superstitious– no number 13s! Red is what we love during this festival, treated as an auspicious colour for the new year, denoting prosperity and energy, and simultaneously, warding off evil spirits and negativity. Time to dress up and shine bright like a lantern.
How do we celebrate Chinese New Year? This festival is about communal spirits and family. Huddle tight with your loved ones in worshipping ancestors and bidding evil spirits away. Across the city, keep your eyes peeled for lion and dragon dances popping up to ward off evil, temple fairs to bring good luck, flower markets to shop for some colour to add good wishes to your home, and light fireworks and firecrackers to really annoy your neighbours. Just kidding on the last activity, as special legal permission is required to spark up.
Where Chinese people live and settle for generations, food is the pinnacle of celebration for this festive period. So, guys, stuff your faces with traditional celebration dishes and eat your heart out.
What should I eat for Chinese New Year? Like everything that’s part of this highly symbolic festival, food shouldn’t be taken lightly. Those who celebrate Chinese New Year like to eat traditional foods with similar pronunciations as good things and lucky symbols.
Eat fish because the pronunciation of fish in Chinese (魚 yú) is a homophone with surplus (餘 yú), earning you ‘surplus’ money in the bank. Add a lot of garlic to your meal because of its homonymic relation to ‘calculating (money)’: 蒜 (suàn) and 算 (suàn). Munch on uncut noodles (麵條) as they symbolise longevity and a long life, and apples, with their similar pronunciation with ‘peace’: 蘋果 (píng guǒ) and 平 (píng).
The classic Chinese New Year’s Eve dinner is the most important meal in the festival, called reunion dinner (年夜飯), whereby locals host family-wide gathering to consume traditional meats and fish plates, alongside specialty dishes native to Hong Kong; fat choi, poon choi, pig’s trotters, dried oysters, and black moss.
Are there any Chinese New Year taboos and superstitions I should follow or be aware of? Hong Kongers can be a superstitious bunch and may get especially stitious when it comes to New Year’s Day activities. On Jan 22, try not to wash your hair or clothes, no matter how smelly you are, as it means washing away all the good luck you’ve been earning at work! Don’t sweep your dirty floors, because it symbolises a sweeping away of wealth, and don’t say “death”, because it may just as well kill you!
Throughout the festival, please don’t cry, break dishes, or carry odd amounts of red packet money, it’s unlucky! Avoid using any scissors or knives, because it cuts your wealth, and don’t visit the hospital, unless you need to go, I guess, because it’ll bring you illness.
Subscribe to The Beat's newsletter to receive compelling, curated content straight to your inbox! You can also create an account with us for free to start bookmarking articles for later reading.