Happy Chinese New Year! It’s Day 2 of the Chinese Lunar New Year holiday. This is THE major annual holiday here, celebrated with family gatherings, fireworks, flower markets and special food.
This is the year of the rooster, which happens to be my Chinese zodiac year. Characteristics associated with this sign are “trustworthy, with a strong sense of timekeeping and responsibility at work”. Hmmm, I guess one out of three isn’t bad. According to Chinese astrology, the year of your birth sign is also your most unlucky year, so I am busy reading up on how to turn that luck around for the next twelve months. I’m supposed to wear red, wear jade accessories, and not face west. It could be a long year.
At any rate, it’s a holiday and Hong Kong workers get a few days off from their busy, long work days. Officially only the third and fourth days of CNY are stat holidays so Paul goes back to work on Wednesday. Ainsleigh’s boss generously gave her staff the entire week off. I am exempt because I have recently finished my job with the Hong Kong Philharmonic.
Here are some of the things we’ve learned about this holiday:
- It is customary to give red packets or “lai see”. These are little red envelopes that contain “good luck” money. Basically it’s a gesture meant to bestow blessings. There is always a run on banks for brand new bills, which are the only thing to be put into the red packets. The packets are given by old to young or senior to junior. This means that a boss will give his or her employees red packets, but it would be inappropriate to give your boss one. Older family members will give to younger ones, or married people may give to unmarried family members. It is common to give your doorman or other regular service provider a red packet. You have 15 days after the lunar New Year to distribute red packets.
- The principal feature of CNY is family time. Family gatherings and reunions go on for about three days, naturally accompanied by feasts with auspicious foods. These foods, like many other things in this culture, are considered lucky or unlucky based the sound of the word. For example, the Chinese word for “pomelo” sounds like the word for “to have”, so eating it at CNY signifies having more things in the new year. Tangerines represent happiness and prosperity; with the stem attached, they represent longevity. Radish cake is good fortune.
- It is considered unlucky to get a haircut or to buy shoes during the fifteen days after the New Year. Hair dressers will raise their prices immediately before and after this 15-day period because their business will be closed or very poor.
- If you run around a cherry blossom tree three times clockwise, you will have money and love for the coming year.
A lot of people in Hong Kong go away at Chinese New Year. But it’s nothing compared to the great “chunyun” on the Chinese Mainland, which is the official word for the world’s largest annual human migration. It’s expected that some 2.5 billion trips will be taken by Mainlanders travelling within China to visit family during the 40-day “Spring Festival” from January 13 to February 21. This gives a whole new meaning to “high season”.
Hong Kong, however, tends to be pretty quiet at CNY as a lot of people go away. Yesterday, which was the first day of CNY, the streets were virtually deserted. Not so much at the temples though, which were packed with people praying for a prosperous new year.
So from our house to yours, wherever you are – Kung hei fat choi!