Kung Hei Fat Choi! Just when you thought the season of food, family and merriness was over, it’s time to celebrate Chinese New Year (also known as the “Spring Festival”, by the way), the most important and anticipated holiday of the Chinese calendar.
New to Hong Kong? Here’s what you and the kids can expect: The color red everywhere, drums, parades and fire crackers all over town, and more wishes of luck and prosperity than you can count.
And while we’re all for a good party – and the fireworks in this town may just be some of the best in the world – isn’t it better to know just what we’re celebrating and why? We think so too, so in addition to our top picks on great family activities, outings and sites you can share on this very special holiday with the kids (hint: it’s way more than just fireworks), here’s a quick look at the story behind the traditions.
A (QUICK) LOOK AT THE TRADITIONS
A holiday festival like no other, Chinese New Year (which starts with the new moon on the first day of the new year and ends on the full moon 15 days later) is an amazing celebration that is full of ancient traditions, rituals, culture…and lots of food and fireworks!
Why do we celebrate the New Year like we do? Well, according to tradition: The wild beast Nian (“year”) appeared at the end of each year, attacking and killing villagers, destroying crops, and stealing children. One day, Nian was seen back away from a child in red, indicating its fear of the color. Since then at the coming of spring, the villages were turned into a sea of red to ward away the evil beast. Loud noises and bright lights were also used to scare it away, and the Chinese New Year traditions of firecrackers and drums were born.
The holiday is all about celebrating the coming of the new year, and all things lucky and prosperous are celebrated. As dragons and lions are symbols of power and strength, the dragon and lion dance, complete with an impressive drum rhythm, is one of the most popular activities during Chinese New Year.
As with most holidays, food plays a huge role, with the Chinese New Year Eve’s meal being the most important dinner of the year. Typically, families gather at a designated relative’s house for dinner and rotate meals between family homes over the course of the holiday.
Lai See, or red pockets, is also an important tradition – these red envelopes are filled with money and given typically only given to children or unmarried adults with no job, with the notion that the money is lucky and will ward away bad spirits.
SEE + DO: FUN FAMILY OUTINGS
THE FLOWER MARKETS
January 17-22, Noon to midnight (and into early hours of January 23) – but the best time is often between 6pm-9pm
As the lunar new year comes rolling around, locals flock to fresh flower markets in search of the perfect auspicious blossom for their home. More than a dozen of the city’s parks and playgrounds all over Hong Kong offer superb flower markets, but our favorites are Victoria Park in Causeway Bay and Fa Hui Park in Mong Kok, Kowloon.
January 22-26; various temples throughout Hong Kong.
As is Chinese custom, now is the time to give thanks for the past 12 months and pray for good fortune in the coming year. Join the huge crowds and make a pilgrimage to one of Hong Kong’s most popular deities during Chinese New Year and welcome the Year of the Dragon with an offering. Grab the kids and head to Man Mo Temple in Sheung Wan and pay tribute to the God of Literature (Man) and the God of War (Mo). They accept wishes for health, good fortune – and successful exam results. Another favorite is Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin Temple in Kowloon. Home to one of Hong Kong’s most popular deities, the Wong Tai Sin Temple is a most popular destination for the local crowds on during the New Year period. Come with an offering! Click here for details on location and opening hours of the various temples through the city.
PARADES + FIREWORKS FOR THE KIDS
THE CHINESE NEW YEAR NIGHT PARADE
January 23 8-9:30pm
Tsim Tsa Tsui (click here for route details)
Don’t miss this giant harbour-front street party on the day of Chinese New Year. It promises to be a glorious parade of floats, international performances mixed with traditional dragon and lion dancers, not to mention a whole lot of dancing (we’re talking all sorts: ballerinas, jazz dance troupes, acrobats and costumed characters – not to mention a pre-parade-party!) Click here for full highlights and other details.
January 24, 8pm
Start the New Year with a bang. The Dragon Year Lunar New Year fireworks display promises to be a magnificent spectacle – no doubt we’re all looking for the best seats – so book your Harbour Cruise now and be dazzled with a perfect view on the water! Details can be found here
If you prefer watching from land, there are plenty of spots along the Victoria Harbour. Just be sure to find a spot where you get to see Hong Kong’s famed skyline as well – the lighting display before and after the fireworks are not to be missed. And if you’re looking for an indoor spot, sky100 has one of the best views around.
Finally, if you’re looking for a little something more swank (but still great for kids), check out the Harbour Grand KowloonRooftop Pool Deck Cocktail Reception: Light Up the Night Sky from 7:30pm-9pm. (Tickets are HK$368/adult and HK$198/child).
CARNIVALS + PARTIES
Hong Kong Well-Wishing Festival
January 23-February 6
Lam Tsuen, Tai Po
A New Year is a whole another 365 days for your wishes to come true and there is no better place to make your wishes for the Year of the Dragon than at Lam Tsuen. Check out details here.
Lunar New Year Lantern Carnival
February 4-6 7:30-10:30pm
Various locations: click here for details.
Featuring all the traditional Chinese excitements: an exquisite display of Chinese lanterns, traditional Chinese singing, dancing and stage arts, and of course – fortune telling.
February 4 2-7pm
Pedestrian zone in Paterson Street and Great George Street, Causeway Bay
The carnival will be a day of celebrating traditional Chinese culture, complete with stage and street performances, booth displays and games, and a wide array of traditional Chinese costumes. Here is the full description.
Enter the Dragon with Dash Berlin
January 22 9pm
7 Floor, Great Room, W Hotel
Dash Berlin, world renowned DJ, three times nominee at the International Dance Music Awards and currently ranked 8th in the world, will be taking Hong Kong into Year of the Dragon at the W Hotel. The night will include surprise guests of the best of local Hong Kong artists. For ticketing details, please click here.
THEME PARKS CELEBRATIONS FOR THE FAMILY
Year of the Dragon at Disneyland
January 13 – February 5
Hong Kong Disneyland
Mickey and friends have loads of special activities to welcome the start of the year of the Dragon. Expect drums, dragon dances, and so much more – all with a family-friendly twist like only Disney can do. Click here for details on ticketing and opening hours.
Janaury 21-February 5
Hong Kong Ocean Park
Ocean Park has got it covered for the family during Lunar New Year, with dragon dance classes, a dazzling Chinese New Year party for older kids and more. www.oceanpark.com.hk
THE HONG KONG MARATHON
It’s the largest outdoor sporting event in Hong Kong, attracting some of the world’s top runners every year. Get more info here.
THE ASIAN CHALLENGE CUP
January 23-26, Hong Kong Stadium
Calling all football fans! As part of the CNY celebrations, a unique football tournament featuring Japan’s Shimizu S-Pulse, Korea’s Seongnam Ilwa Chunma, China’s Guangzhou R&F FC and South China FC from Hong Kong. A tournament of second-by-second thrills. Go to www.cityline.com for ticketing details.