For most of the world, the last day of December is a date to remember for it signals the end of a year and marks the advent of a new year. New Year’s Eve is a thus a highly anticipated event around the world and grand parties, spectacular fireworks displays, concerts and celebrations always feature on the agenda of the festivities planned for the night.
However, folks resident in countries like China and much of South East Asia have yet another grand celebration, to look forward to bang on the heels of New Year’s Eve- Chinese New Year. Chinese New Year or the Spring Festival usually comes about at the end of January, or early February and the event features much revelry wherever significant Chinese populations reside.
In 2015, the first day of Chinese New Year is February 19th, the first new moon day that signifies the start of the first month of the New Year according to the lunar calendar. According to calculations, the year 2015 corresponds to the 4712th year of the Chinese calendar. The Chinese use the Stem-Branch system to count days, months and years. According to this system, there exist ten stems and 12 branches. Yin-Yang energies and the concept of Five Elements namely Metal, Water, Wood, Fire, and Earth classify the stems of this system.
The branches of the system, on the other hand, refer to the twelve animals of the Chinese Zodiac. These animals include the Rat, Cow, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. A combination of branches and stems gives rise to 60 different permutations and combinations and according to the workings of this system, 2015 is the year of the Wooden Goat or Sheep or Ram.
In fact, it is not merely the Wooden Sheep or Goat but the Green, Wooden, Sheep or Goat. The explanation for the reference to the color green arises due to the Yin Wood element that in turn is allied to green living things such as plants.
Like plants, which grow back after being pruned, Yin Wood is resilient and able to withstand a harsh environment. The allied branch for Yin Wood is the goat or the sheep, the 8th sign of the Chinese Zodiac. The laws of Chinese metaphysics ordinarily state that Yin Wood and the Goat/Sheep are incompatible but luckily the Goat/Sheep also has hidden Wooden, Fire and Earth elements, which bring about harmony and solidarity.
In addition, the Goat/Sheep is the eighth animal in the order of the Chinese Zodiac. Number 8 is considered to be very lucky for it symbolizes wisdom, fortune, and prosperity. Hence 2015, is slated to be a lucky year for all the signs of Chinese Zodiac. The Chinese New Year 2015 dawns at 7.48am China Standard Time on February 19th, 2015 up and continues until February 7th, 2016.
Astrologers, fortune-tellers, and geomancers use these combinations along with principles of FengShui to determine peoples’ fortunes for the New Year. For 2015, they predict that those folk who have Wood, Earth and Fire elements in their charts will do well. Forecasters also predict that businesses such as banking, real estate, food, show business, mining, electronics and automotive will prosper during the year of the green, wooden goat/sheep will prosper.
Celebrating Chinese New Year in Hong Kong
Preparations for Chinese New Year will soon get underway here in Hong Kong as the Government has declared the 19th and 20th of February as public holidays for the 1st and 2nd day of the Lunar New Year. Government offices, banks, offices, and many restaurants, shops and street markets will down their shutters during Chinese New Year. While many expatriates in Hong Kong and other Asian cities use the Chinese New Year holidays to plan getaways to holiday resorts in the region and beyond, Chinese families tend to make Chinese New Year a family affair.
With the approach of Chinese New Year, a joyous air descends over all of Hong Kong. Public markets all over the SAR host holiday markets for the festival and various agencies distribute lai see packets (red packets), spring scrolls, recipes and souvenirs at these gatherings. Cooking demonstrations featuring traditional festive fare like black moss, dried oysters, steamed sticky cake, tongyuen(glutinous rice balls) and more are evident at these markets. Colorful flower markets bursting with plentiful blooms are other prominent annual events associated the festival. These markets are held at Victoria Park in Causeway Bay and FaHui Park in Kowloon.
Hong Kongers also make it a point to visit banks to request for brand-new currency notes. They then use these brand-new notes to fill lai see packets used for gift giving. Distributing lai see or the traditional red packets are an important feature of Chinese New Year. Elders in the family usually distribute lai see to younger members of the family and employees. Tradition dictates that married couples give lai see to the single people they know.
It is also customary to give lai see to people who provide you with a service throughout the year. The security guards at your apartment complex, the personnel at a beauty salon you frequent, regular cleaners and deliverymen all deserve a lai see or a red packet. A simple gesture, which acknowledges their year round service. The Eve of the Chinese New Year festival sees Hong Kongers thoroughly spring clean their homes. They then promptly put away their cleaning equipment for they believe any cleaning on the day of the New Year will banish the good luck along with the dirt from their homes. Some new home buyers elect to move into their spanking-new premises during the new year festivities as in this manner they believe they are wiping the slate clean and starting out afresh.
During the run-up period to Chinese New Year, Hong Kongers visit the vibrant flower markets to find appropriate blooms to adorn their homes for the festival. Favorites include gold-hued kumquat trees and potted shrubs of miniature oranges both of which are symbolic of wealth and prosperity. Peonies, plum blossoms, orchids, peach blossoms and pussy willows are some other flowers that are popular as Chinese New Year décor.
Aside from flowers and fruit, other much-favored traditional decorative items include sumptuous red and gold lanterns, animal-shaped trinkets, embellished banners inscribed with good wishes and sentiments. Elaborate meals with the family and relatives and visits to temples to light incense and pay respects to their ancestors are some of the traditional highlights of the first day of Chinese New Year.
Another prominent feature of the celebration is the ‘lion dance’. Held at various complexes and parks, the ‘lion dance’ is a mainstay of the festival and typically features dancers who form the head and body of a lion. The make-believe lion dances to the loud beats of the accompanying drums, gongs and cymbals as it banishes the bad luck of the past year.
The Lunar New Year Cup, a football tourney featuring local and international teams also kicks-off at the Hong Kong Stadium in Causeway Bay on the first day of Chinese New Year. This round-robin tournament attracts enthusiastic football fans, and the event culminates in a final on the fourth day of Chinese New Year.
The program of Chinese New Year festivities in Hong Kong, in fact, includes a variety of events. A prominent event is the International Chinese New Year Night Parade, which rolls out in TsimShaTsui on the first night of Chinese New Year. This spectacular extravaganza features a whole host of international and local performers and attracts huge crowds of tourists and local Hong Kongers alike. Special Chinese New Year events are also organized at Hong Kong’s prominent tourist attractions, Hong Kong Disneyland and Ocean Park.
On the second day of Chinese New Year, married daughters traditionally go home to their parents’ home for a meal. In the evening, crowds line the many waterfront promenades of Hong Kong to take in the fantastic fireworks display that illuminates the night sky over Victoria Harbor.
The third day of Chinese New Year is known as ‘chechao’. Tradition dictates that arguments and fights on this day are likely to take place, so people are advised to avoid spats. They then usually head out to the Che Kung Temple for some quiet time or then to the Sha Tin racecourse for yet another raucous Chinese New Year festivity, the thrilling Chinese New Year Race Day.
The celebrations of Chinese New Year go on for fifteen days though on the fourth day of the festival, Hong Kong largely opens for business. The Spring Lantern festival heralds the end of Chinese New Year.
This year, the Spring Lantern Festival is slated for March 5th, 2015. The event will feature thousands of colorful lanterns of all shapes and size, which will adorn markets, restaurants, hotels, and shop fronts. The Leisure and Cultural Services Department will also be holding a spectacular month-long lantern display at the Hong Kong Cultural Center Piazza in TsimShaTsui from February 12th to March 22nd, 2015.
If you happen to be in Hong Kong, during the SAR’s grandest celebration, do make it a point to take in some of the joyful events that characterize the city’s extravagant celebration of Chinese New Year.