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Celebrate Chinese New Year, Hong Kong style
For anyone not of Chinese descent, Chinese New Year is a confusing concept. Travelers who visit Hong Kong during this important festival are likely to have questions. What's the significance? How do you celebrate? But fortunately, Hong Kong is the perfect introduction to this most significant of Chinese celebrations. Hong Kong's unique blend of familiar Western amenities and authentic Chinese culture make it the perfect place to begin your Chinese New Year experience.
Understanding and enjoying Chinese New Year in Hong Kong depends on three distinct activities: the main rituals, the typical foods and the public celebrations. Each of these activities is tied to longstanding Chinese traditions, dating back centuries, and are designed to ensure good health and prosperity in the year ahead. Experiencing the festival in the dense urban environment of Hong Kong adds an additional layer of fun, allowing you to enjoy the festivities on a huge scale.
Ever wanted to learn more about Chinese New Year? Don't know the Year of the Tiger from the Year of the Ox? Let's take a closer look at how to celebrate in Hong Kong and how to get started. Keep reading below for more.
To truly understand Chinese New Year, you need to get familiar with the festival's unique rituals. The best place to get started is at Hong Kong's Chinese temples, where citizens head to pray for good luck, burn incense sticks and have their fortunes told. Hong Kong's most famous temple is Wong Tai Sin Temple in Kowloon, which sees nearly 300,000 visitors during the New Year festivities.
Upon arriving at Wong Tai Sin, take a moment to soak in the temple's solemn atmosphere with worshipers bent on their knees, the air thick with sweet incense smoke. Grab a tube of fortune sticks from the table near the entrance to inquire on your prospects for the year ahead. Ask a question, give the cylinder a shake, and wait for a stick with a number to fall out. Then bring your number to one of Wong Tai Sin's numerous fortune tellers to have it interpreted. Good or bad, the answers you receive are meant to help guide your decisions in the year ahead.
Chinese New Year is a time heavy with symbolism. This is particularly true of the holiday's typical foods, all of which are laden with spiritual significance. Everything that's eaten during these important days is intended to bring prosperity, happiness, longevity and good fortune in the months ahead.
A good place to begin your culinary exploration is at Hong Kong's daily markets. In neighborhoods like Wan Chai, you'll find a flurry of activity in the days leading up to the festivities, as market goers pick up supplies for the traditional reunion dinner. Butchers wield cleavers like madmen, chopping, hacking and yelling. Giant carp thrash about in bubbling fish tanks. Typical Chinese New Year foods are everywhere. At the dried goods stalls you'll find a variety of New Year specialties like chocolate coins, dried oysters and Chinese Sausage. At the produce stalls, take your pick from New Year favorites like juicy mandarin oranges or crunchy melon seeds.
Each New Year food has been specially chosen to bring good luck in the New Year. For instance, the Cantonese word for dried oysters (ho see) sounds similar to the words for "wealth and good business." It's eating that's as much about symbolism as it is about the taste.
The celebration of Chinese New Year in Hong Kong happens on a scale and size like nowhere else. The city's seven million residents come out in force to enjoy a variety of festive activities surrounding this annual event.
On the first day of the New Year is the annual Hong Kong Chinese New Year Parade, packed with colorful floats, wild drumming, manic dragon dancers and throngs of spectators. The parade is a microcosm of Hong Kong's frenzied street life, awash in a flurry of sensory delights. Make sure to secure yourself a spot a few hours early and watch out for pickpockets, as the crowds can be intense.
On the second day of the New Year, the city celebrates with a massive fireworks display over Victoria Harbor. Few places in the world can boast of such an impressive light show set against the city's towering skyline. Whether you choose to watch from the harbor or from on high at The Peak, you're sure to have some of the best seats in the house.
Celebrating Chinese New Year in Hong Kong is much like the city itself - an overwhelming array of sensory pleasures and confusing rituals. But with a little background info from Gadling and a spirit of fun, you're guaranteed to enjoy all it has to offer. Kung Hei Fat Choi!