Saturday, February 13, 2010

Chinese New Year

I can remember during the lead up to Christmas 2009, someone told me that Chinese New Year is celebrated in an even bigger way here in Hong Kong than the Christmas festivities. It was hard for me to fathom at the time, but with the Lunar New Year only one day away I can see what they meant. Chinese New Year is basically the most important of all the traditional Chinese holidays. There is a real feeling of excitement and anticipation in the air. The schools are on at least one week's break. Stores and businesses are also closed as families gather to celebrate together with meals and activities. The children and I went to the markets yesterday and could hardly manoeuvre through the crowds of people buying last minute foods, clothing and decorations. Lots of money exchanges hands at this time of year.  From the double-decker bus I have observed customers shopping for perfect kumquat or tangerine trees in the same way that westerners select their ideal Christmas fir. Every self-respecting business seems to have one of these trees in their doorway. The Chinese mums from school explained how on the Eve of Chinese New Year, families share a huge feast with significant food such as vegetables, ducks, chicken and sweet delicacies.

You can read about Chinese New Year traditions and customs in greater detail online, but these are the sorts of common decorations that we have observed for sale or on display in Hong Kong.

The colours red and gold are liberally used in all decorations, as symbols for life and happiness and prosperity. 

Decorations generally convey a New Year greeting in Chinese calligraphy wishing “happiness”, “wealth”, or “longevity”.

The New Year decorations usually feature one or more of the following symbolic ornaments:  

1. Red chilli peppers: the red colour is considered lucky and is believe that it scares away evil.

2. Firecrackers

 3. Dragons

4. Gold boats: these are an old form of Chinese ingots or money. 

5. Tigers: relating to the Chinese calendar and Chinese zodiac. Incidentally, Disney has already cashed in on this with numerous products marked "Year of the Tigger" (from Winnie the Pooh).

6. Koi fish: a symbol for surplus or success

7. Chrysanthemums: symbolise longevity and joy. 

8. Kumquats: symbolise prosperity.

9. Pink blossomed trees: such as cherry, peach or plum trees stand for courage and hope and luck. 

10. Lanterns: they are different from those of Mid Autumn Festival. New year lanterns are always red in colour and oval in shape. 

11. Tray of togetherness: a special dish like the one we sent to Nana for her birthday.
It is usually red and gold and you fill it with dried fruits, biscuits and lollies to offer to guests and relatives who drop by. for a visit Traditionally, the tray is made up of eight compartments. It symbolizes the unity and harmony within the members of a family.

12. Red packets: red envelopes with money in them, often decorated with lucky symbols, which symbolise luck and wealth.  I will expound on that topic more in a later post.

This photo is of items on display at Keegan's kindergarten.

As a craft activity at school, Keegan blew Chinese calligraphy ink with a straw to make a tree trunk.

Then he pasted on pink tissue paper for the blossoms.

Jemilla did a similar activity in her class.

Keegan's class also prepared some special Chinese New Year cakes. I don't know what they were called but their ingredients were mostly sugar, rice flour and water.

Then they were fried in oil. Keegan said he didn't like the taste very much.

Another kindergarten craft, this one is the Chinese pinyin for "spring" done in pumpkin seeds.

We like seeing the decorations and displays for this our first Chinese New Year in Hong Kong. I hope you've enjoyed the photos too!


  1. Wow! Such impressive decorations. It must seem a bit overwhelming!

  2. I love reading your blog! I enjoy learning about your life and the culture of the people. Your posts are very well done. Of course, all it does is make me wish that we were able to spend more time together. Since that is not the case, I will just enjoy reading about your life and pray that our paths may cross again sometime. I will also take the liberty to call you my friend!
    Blessings in this New Year, Chinese or otherwise. :)