恭喜發財! 心想事成! 萬事如意!
Approximate pronunciation of the above Chinese characters in Cantonese: Gung Hei Fat Choi! Sum Sheung Si Sing! Man Si Yu Yee!
What do they mean?! Wishing you wealth and prosperity! May all your wishes come true! Smooth sailing ahead in all matters!
Today is the new moon of February. It also is the start of a new Lunar year for a few other cultures. For Chinese descendents, this is the year of the Wood Sheep. For those in Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan, Happy Losar 2142! Thanks to my background, I have 2 birthdays – as I have one based on the Gregorian calendar and one date based on the Lunar calendar!
After I called my mom in Hong Kong to wish her 新年快樂! (Meaning: Happy New Year) 身體健康! (Meaning: Wishing you a healthy body). I got thinking, when was the last time I was in Hong Kong during Chinese New Year to enjoy the gathering of family members and bask in the atmosphere!?
Well I dug up my old photos and discovered the last time I celebrated Chinese New Year in Hong Kong was back in 2009, the Year of the Ox! So I thought it’d be nice to share some photos from my memory lane today.
The days leading up to Chinese New Year are busy busy busy! The following are some of the traditions my family observe up to this day and age, in Hong Kong. Special new year markets would be set up throughout the city offering all the supplies you may need to welcome the new year! We would definitely go to the New Year Market to shop and enjoy the festive atmosphere. Also, it is tradition to take a long walk to bring luck in the new year.
We would buy new clothes to welcome the new year! Red is the preferred color! Black and white are frowned upon by the very traditionally-minded.
Purchase gift boxes of sweets, cookies, chocolates, and fruits which are to be given away when we visit our relatives and friends.
Purchase fresh plants and flowers to decorate the home – as the true meaning behind the occasion is to 迎春 (meaning: Welcome Spring!) If a family member is hoping for romance in the new year, a peach tree covered in delicate blossoms would be purchased and displayed in the house.
The Chinese loves to play with the pronunciation of words and add meaning. For example, tangerines in Cantonese has the same pronunciation as gold, so they would sell pots of tangerine plants so you are bringing home “pots of Gold!” That is why we prefer the numbers 3, 8 and 9 – definitely will avoid the number 4. Three sounds like growth. Eight sounds like growth of wealth. Nine sounds like longevity. Four sounds like death.
On the 28th of the final month, it’s slated for cleaning the whole house. Every nook and cranny need to be dusted, washed – sparkling clean. Literally, wash away the past!
On the 30th of the final month or New Year’s Eve (年卅晚), family members gather and share a feast (團年飯) together.
Then on the first day, as soon as we wake up, we don’t say Good Morning or the usual greetings – instead we get right to wishing wellness and blessings to each person we are acquainted with. Even when we answer the phone, we just blurt out a greeting or two! Then the most exciting part begins!! All the elders and married couples give 利是 (meaning: lucky money) inside the red envelops to those who are their descendents or those who are single!
For the first three days, we would visit the homes of family and friends, in order of seniority and closeness. The first day for us is always reserved for visiting my parent’s siblings and they would visit us in our home, to reciprocate. Enjoy tea. Savour little snacks. Chit chat a little. Go to the next home.
I still remember as kids, on the first day of school after the Chinese New Year school holiday, we would tell our friends how much money we collected and what sweets we ate and received. Now it’s my nephew and nieces who walk from relative to relative, wishing them well, collecting the lucky money and stuffing them in their pockets and purse. This is the time of year when ALL the shy kids have to break out of their shells to speak up and in return they fill their pockets with some lucky money. Not a bad incentive – me thinks.
This is just scratching the surface of some of the Chinese tradition performed before and during the New Year celebration. I shall leave you with some photos of the buildings in Hong Kong which get decorated with colorful lights for the season. Happy New Year!