New Year. The most important festival on Hong Kong’s cultural calendar. Also known as the Lunar
New Year or Spring Festival, the celebration transforms the 24-hour
city into one big, colourful celebration. Time-honoured customs
play out on streets strung with glowing red lanterns. Dragons dance
between light shows, hand-crafted installations and markets blossom
with fortune-changing flowers.
Fittingly, 2021 is the Year of the Ox, a symbol of strength and
determination. And while celebrations may look a little different
owing to social-distancing restrictions and cancelled events, there
are plenty of ways you can get involved – no matter where you are
in the world. There’s nothing quite like events such as this to
offer both escapism and excitement at the prospect of being able to
With that in mind, we’re turning to Hong Kong for inspiration.
Get cooking, tune in to virtual festivals and follow
fortune-enhancing customs with our round-up of traditions and
virtual events that you can try at home. Legend has it they may
even maximise your luck. Fingers crossed.
Celebrate the Hong Kong way: Chinese New Year customs,
traditions and events to try at home
1. Get your bloom on
Each year, around 15 festive, open-air flower markets
temporarily sprout up across the city. Visiting is an annual
tradition for many Hong Kong families, who have dinner on the eve
of Chinese New Year then head out to buy blooms. The crowds are
often big; vendors sell into the small hours. This year it’s a
scaled-back affair, with sectioned off areas and safety
precautions. Our pick: Victoria Park – usually the largest venue – or
Mong Kok’s smaller street market.
More than decoration, the flowers have symbolic meaning too.
Stuck at home? Fill a vase with bamboo for luck, cherry blossom for
new beginnings, love-inducing peonies, orchids for purity, and
pussy willows to help with growth. Oh and narcissus too; they’re
said to bring good fortune. Call the florist, it’s time to stock
2. Clean, clean, clean
Bring out the rubber gloves and get scrubbing. Cleaning your
house/ flat/ bedroom from top to bottom will help rid your space
from last year’s back luck (understatement of the century). Making
everything spick and span also clears the way for good luck to
enter, so part ways with (or find other homes for) broken or unused
items – no, you really don’t need that old, chipped mug at the back
of your cupboard. Fling open your windows too; there’s nothing like
a blast of fresh air to say “out with the old, in with the
Enhance good fortune by incorporating tips from Feng Shui master
designer Thierry Chow, the woman behind our favourite lounging
spots in Soho House Hong Kong. For frustrated travellers who miss
exploring, Thierry advises placing a bronze horse in the south-east
corner of your home to increase the chances of being able to jet
off. Watch the rest of her tips here.
3. Time to decorate
Take inspiration from some of Hong Kong’s elaborate Chinese New
Year installations. We’re big fans of the Garden of Wishes that
hugs the fountain in the Landmark and the interactive Butterflies
of Hope fluttering over Lee Tung Avenue.
Such large-scale displays might be difficult to replicate at
home. Instead, jazz up interiors with whimsical lanterns and tack a
red-and-gold fai chun banner on your front door. Nine oranges
nestled in a bowl in the lounge or kitchen are said to ward off bad
4. Visit the temples
Come midnight on the eve of Chinese New Year, thousands gather
at Wong Tai Sin Temple to make offerings – it’s
believed that the earlier they arrive, the bigger the blessing. Set
on the south side of Kowloon’s Lion Rock mountain, this sprawling
complex of altars, pavilions and gardens is an important site for
Taoist, Buddhist and Confucian worshippers. Not able to make it
with the incense sticks? Tune in to a live-broadcast
For a more peaceful celebration, skip across to the Tang-dynasty
Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden in the centre of Kowloon. Its
immaculately landscaped gardens, koi-filled ponds and lush greenery
set the scene for meditation and reflection. On the second day of
Chinese New Year, head north to Sha Tin and turn the copper
windmill clockwise at the Song-dynasty Che Kung Temple. Good luck, guaranteed.
5. Cook up a feast
After decorating your home and following the Chinese New Year
customs, plan a banquet bursting with essential eats to bring you a
year filled with good fortune. Kick start your cooking with
dumplings, remembering to arrange them in lines instead of circles.
Circles imply that your life will follow suit and not go anywhere –
this kind of negativity we don’t need.
Up next is the communal hotpot. Make like locals in Hong Kong
and dive into a big bowl brimming with scallops, prawns and roasted
meats. Seafood aficionados should opt for lobster and laden the
platter with Chinese pickles, crispy taro and shredded carrot.
How does that Hong Kong saying go? No chicken, no feast! No
problem, seeing as you can whip up the moreish and incredibly
tender fu gui (wealth) chicken. Simply wrap the chicken in a layer
of dough to keep it tender and sit atop a bed of rice to absorb all
the succulent flavours. Decorate the centrepiece with some fresh
crab and mushrooms.
Finish off with nin gou, a sticky-sweet rice cake often topped
with red dates. If you’re seeking a new job, gorge on these. “Nin
gou” translates to “higher by the year”.
6. Take a hike
Sure, we’re missing the annual Chinese New Year Parade filled
with huge floats, tumbling acrobats and roaring lion dances, but
this year we’re using this extra downtime to explore Hong Kong’s
epic hiking trails. City of skyscrapers? Think again. Head to Lamma
Island to sashay between beaches and villages, refuelling at the
smattering of seafood restaurants dotted around the coastline.
This route clocks in at a manageable 5km.
After something more challenging? Venture to Ma On Shan Country
Park. The trail here requires a little bit of extra (uphill) leg
work. Wild and waterfall-filled, clamber across boulders and pass
through streams on this 11km route.
Photo: Kelvin Yuen
7. Join in the celebrations from home
Chinese New Year is a truly global celebration. No matter where
you are in the world, you can join in with the celebrations from
Tune in to Chinese New Year Race Day on 14 February. For this
key date in the celebratory calendar, city dwellers don their
luckiest outfit and hit the Sha Tin racetrack. This year you can
cheer on your winner from home. Have a flutter, tour
the race course and meet world-famous jockeys and trainers in
the follow-along videos.
We may not be allowed to gather with friends and family this
year but it doesn’t mean we have to feel disconnected. Send a CNY e-card to loved ones to know that
you’re thinking of them. Watch The Peninsula’s lion dance performance on its helipad,
streaming live from its Facebook page on 12 February. To finish off
celebrations, watch this tutorial on Cantonse greetings that’ll
bring good fortune. It’s a great way to practice your Cantonese
ahead of your next visit to Hong Kong.
Find out more about how locals celebrate Chinese New Year in
Hong Kong by visiting discoverhongkong.com