Winter in Hong Kong is all about celebration, and hot on the heels of Christmas comes Chinese New Year. Suveera Sharma takes a look at this most colourful of festivals, and how DBers like to celebrate it
The streets are hung with red and gold lanterns admonishing the grey skies of a cold winter. Jangly Chinese music streams out from restaurants and shops. Mandarin trees are everywhere, ushering in good luck. Dancing lions with gongs are walking the streets. It’s Chinese New Year (CNY) in DB! And there’s a loud banging sound coming from my kitchen…
I jump out of my chair to find my son bashing a steel plate with a ladle. It takes me a while to work out what he’s up to but then I remember. He’s just learnt about the origins of CNY at school, and he’s making this deafening noise to scare away Nian the monster.
You see CNY dates back to around 1600 BC when, legend has it, a village on the mainland was terrorised by a monster called Nian. Each year, on the first day of the Lunar New Year, Nian came to the village and ate all the livestock and grain, while the villagers hid in their homes. That is until a wise old man worked out how to vanquish the monster. The old man had discovered that Nian was afraid of loud noises, so he told the villagers to scare him away by banging drums, letting off firecrackers and making music. The villagers did as the old man instructed and Nian never returned.
To this day, the villagers’ success, the triumph of good over evil, is marked by a major festival not just on the mainland and here in Hong Kong but across the globe.
Kung Hei Fat Choi!
Based on the lunar, rather than the Gregorian calendar, CNY begins on the first day of the new moon, which falls any time between January 21 and February 20. This year, February 5 is the first day of the Lunar New Year.
Kate Zhou, director and owner of DB Chinese language learning centre Yifan Mandarin, speaks of the holiday very fondly. “It is our most important festival,” she says. “A time for family reunions and celebrations. I always go to my parents’ house in Sichuan province. Everyone tries their level best to be at home over the holiday no matter how far away it might be.”
CNY indeed witnesses the largest annual human migration on the planet as millions of people in China make the journey home. Comparing CNY with America’s largest annual migration is a good way to gauge its enormous size. Thanksgiving 2017 saw 50.9 million travellers – the number of people on the move in China at CNY is over seven times that.
2019 ushers in the Year of the Pig, one of 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac, the others being the Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster and Dog. Babies born throughout each year are thought to display certain characteristics unique to their zodiac animal, for example Tigers are thought to be great leaders and Dogs are loyal and dependable, while Pigs are said to be easy-going, honest, generous, sincere and sociable.
We can expect good things from 2019 because the Pig symbolises wealth and happiness and represents good fortune.
Join the parade
If you enjoy the hustle and bustle of local festivals and don’t mind braving the crowds then the annual Cathay Pacific International Chinese New Year Night Parade is the place to be. You can expect dancers and floats from across the globe, not to mention what feels like the city’s entire population, congregating along the streets of Tsim Sha Tsui. This colourful carnival takes place on the evening of February 5, beginning at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre and culminating at the Sheraton Hotel.
From February 7, Lam Tsuen plays temporary host to many of the night parade’s floats, so if the main event is a little too crowded for you, head to the New Territories. The carnival lasts for a couple of weeks and you can expect firecrackers, food stalls, game booths, cultural performances and lion dances galore.
While in Lam Tsuen, you can take part in the ancient and highly colourful Well Wishing Festival. You write your wish on a piece of paper (traditionally red or gold for good luck), together with your name and date of birth. Tie the paper to an orange and toss it into one of the Wishing Trees in the centre of the village – the higher the paper lands, the more likely it is that your wish will come true.
Releasing a Wishing Lantern is another popular Lam Tsuen tradition which sees locals releasing water lanterns, carrying good fortune for the New Year, into the canal.
Festive fun in DB
But why leave the resort? There’s plenty of festive fun to be had right here in DB, with many of the restaurants putting on special CNY menus and plenty to do at the residents’ clubs.
“We have planned a host of events for CNY,” says Vicky Hui senior marketing officer at Discovery Bay Recreation Club. “We have our very popular lion dance show at the entrance of both clubs on February 6, when there are also traditional Chinese snacks and tea on offer. The little ones may also enjoy an arts-and-crafts workshop at Club Siena on February 6, and you can go on a cruise to see the fireworks in the evening. “
Peony will offer a traditional prosperity menu featuring favourites like roasted crispy pork belly, lobster, dried oysters and more,” adds Vicky.
Food plays a huge part in the CNY celebrations, particularly on the eve of the festival when families traditionally enjoy a huge evening meal at home. “Sometimes many generations sit down together,” says Kate. “Dishes with lucky meanings are added to the menu. Sticky-rice cake and dumplings, and fish and chicken dishes are all considered auspicious.”
In the lead-up to the holiday, schools across DB also do a great job of celebrating, making sure that all pupils have a clear understanding of what’s going on. “
The children dress up in traditional costumes, and there is a special assembly in school, performed by the students,” says Rochelle Ferreira, an educational assistant at Discovery Bay International School. “Apart from the celebrations, we also always have a special class about the origin and story behind the festival for the children to grasp the reason behind the celebrations. Children from different nationalities celebrate as one.”
It’s beautiful to see how the festive atmosphere of CNY affects everyone in DB, irrespective of nationality, as we come together to celebrate the triumph of good over evil. It’s a time of new beginnings; a time when we are given the opportunity to free ourselves of negativity and resentment. At CNY, we ignite the firecracker of hope, and scare away the ‘Nian’ inside. Kung Hei Fat Choi!Tags: 2019, chinese new year, cny, Kung Hei Fat Choi!, year of the pigs