How to Celebrate the Lunar New Year, According to Hong Kong Locals

Chinese calligraphy

If you haven't celebrated the Lunar New Year, you're missing out.

Usually happening in late January or February, the Lunar New Year (also called the Chinese New Year or Spring Festival) is the time of year that celebrates the first new moon of the lunar calendar, while also recognizing a new animal from the zodiac.

2021 is the Year of the Ox, which represents strength, conscientiousness, confidence, reliability, and fairness. All of the things that pretty much anyone around the world can appreciate after everything that happened in 2020.

While it's celebrated in many other Asian countries, the Lunar New Year is particularly a special tradition in China, when families can get together and celebrate with their families or attend religious ceremonies for their deceased family members. People exchange small, red envelopes that contain small amounts of money, attend festivals, and make delicious food in honor of the new year.

Although traveling to China during this time of year is particularly difficult due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there's still a way to celebrate this holiday like a true local. Hong Kong natives have shared their best tips for kicking off the Lunar New Year, which begins on Feb. 12.

Virginia Chan in Chinese store

Buy something red

"One thing that I started doing since coming to Hong Kong is to buy a new top and underwear for the first day of the Chinese New Year, both preferably in red," said Virginia Chan, founder of Humid With A Chance Of Fishballs Tours.

"Then on the first day of Chinese New Year, we typically dress in various shades of the lucky color red. It is believed that red can scare away spirits of bad fortune," said Conny Wong, founder of Pepper & Mint, and author-publisher of Mini Love Tales. "I love Hong Kong around Chinese New Year as the city really comes alive — you can feel it in your bones! Besides the beautiful decorations, vibrant lion dances and the lovely flower markets, with everyone wishing each other well, you can feel the happiness and positivity around!"

boiled crab

Eat seafood as your meal of choice

Chan also recommends having a celebratory family dinner (as long as it's safe) that includes shrimp. "It wasn't until I moved to Hong Kong that I learned that the reason that people ate shrimp for the Chinese New Year dinner was because shrimp ("ha") sounded like laughter, so it is a good omen for happiness." Chef Wong Wing-Keung, Executive Chinese Chef at Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong's Man Wah, suggests "egg Noodles with crabmeat and crab roes — this dish is known for symbolizing auspiciousness. Another favorite festive dish of mine is Braised vegetables with red fermented bean curd — this stems from a Buddhist tradition which believes that vegetables purify and cleanse the body and soul."

dusting a mirror

Clean your home

Chef Wong also suggests cleaning the entire house, especially kitchenware, for the new year. "It's important to welcome the new year looking clean and fresh," he said.

"Every year just before the Chinese New Year, we do a deep cleanse of the house, purging our home of items that we no longer use or need and donating them to a charity," said Akashic guide and mentor Coco Chan. "We deep clean the house physically and energetically to transmute any old energies from the previous year. Just make sure to get it all done before the first day of the holidays, as cleaning during the actual new year is said to bring bad luck! This sets the stage for us to welcome in any new year energies with abundance and clarity."

Run around a plum blossom tree

If you manage to get near a plum blossom tree, it could bring you some new romance in 2021. "If I'm out with my grandma or aunties and they see a big plum blossom tree in full bloom, they'll make me run around it three times clockwise in order to activate my romance luck for the year," said Chan.

Red lanterns for Chinese New Year

Try some Feng Shui

"Every year, we will visit the Mong Kok Flower Market to get bamboo stalks and water fairy flowers, as they all signify health, wealth, and family unity. It is also traditional to decorate the home with red lanterns in order to attract 'lucky' energy," said Estella Huang Lung, CEO of Children's Medical Foundation. Lung also suggests looking into the Chinese zodiac or fortune to see what the year has in store for you.

Don’t cut your hair or buy shoes

These actions could bring bad luck. "I have also always avoided having a haircut or buying shoes during the holidays as they're said to bring bad luck for the year," said Chef Wong.

Red envelopes for Chinese New Year

Get some crisp, new dollar bills

Emphasis on crisp. The new year is all about starting fresh, so brand new, crisp dollar bills directly from the bank are considered luckier than ones that have been in circulation for a while. "Before the holiday, we usually go to the bank to get crisp new bills to be put into red packets (Lai See). Lai See is typically given out to family, friends, children, and employees over the holidays, and is a nice way of bestowing luck, happiness, and fortune on those who are younger or more junior to you," said Conny Wong.

Andrea Romano is a freelance writer in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @theandrearomano.

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