While Hong Kong is a thoroughly modern city, it retains many traditional customs from the mainland. Chinese New Year, for starters, is one event that truly stops the city in its tracks and a perfect time to arrange accommodations in Hong Kong.
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To kick off 2011, the Year of the Rabbit, visit famous Wong Tai Sin Temple. The important shrine attracts 30,000 devotees for Chinese New Year and features a vital ritual, wherein each visitor grabs a tube of fortune sticks and shakes it until one drops. Each stick has a number, which, with the aid of nearby fortune tellers, supposedly guides your fortune throughout the new year.
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The first day of the new year erupts in a frenzy of events, which includes the Hong Kong Chinese New Year Parade. Dragon dancers, colourful floats and drummers enchant spectators, who come early to reserve their place street-side. The second day of the celebration sees a massive fireworks display over Victoria Harbour.
As Chinese New Year represents a fresh start and clean slate, so to speak, the people of Hong Kong heed many time-honoured superstitions which revolve around the momentous time of year. For example, debtors find ways to square debts and so-called “morbid” topics like death are strictly avoided. The colour red is highly symbolic and sweets are considered lucky and used in decorations and gifts. Celebrants often don new clothes in red, purple, silver or gold (red underwear is especially popular) though new shoes are avoided as â€œshoeâ€ in Cantonese sounds like the same word for “exasperated sigh” – a bad omen.
Food is highly symbolic throughout Chinese New Year as well, most notably when names serve as double entendres. Hair seaweed (fat choy) and dried oysters (ho see), for example, sound like â€œwealth and good businessâ€. Finally, locals visit friends and loved ones bearing gifts, particularly sweets. Older folks hand out “lai see” to younger relatives; red envelopes of money marked with greetings like Kung Hei Fat Choi (Congratulations and Be Prosperous). For many young people in Hong Kong, however, the myriad obligatory traditions that come with Chinese New Year are cause to flee the city and travel, in a rebellious ritual known as bai nin (Avoid the Year).
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On the third day of the New Year, families stay home during the â€œDay of Squabblesâ€, where social interaction may result in altercations. Another round of feasting occurs on the seventh day, which is known as â€œEverybodyâ€™s Birthdayâ€. This day is particularly important to those who desire specific achievements in the coming year and eat special foods that symbolize excellence. Finally, the 15th day of the New Year is known as the Lantern Festival, where beautiful lanterns are displayed both in and out of the house. A common delicacy during this time is yuan siu, a glutinous rice ball with sweet fillings that symbolizes unity.
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If you have kids in tow, Hong Kong Disneyland is a good place to be between January 21 and February 13. From Disney characters in traditional Chinese New Year costumes to special events, the massive theme park has a lot in store for the holiday.