Chinese New Year in Hong Kong

Part 2

This lesson, I will talk about some important dates in the Chinese New Year, some lucky sayings, and some foods to eat during Chinese New Year. Enjoy!

Important CNY dates:

On the 28th of the last month of the Lunar Calendar, we are supposed to clean and wash out the unwanted. The symbolic meaning behind this is to wash out all the bad luck from this year and have a fresh start for the upcoming year.

The 29th, once the unwanted and the bad luck have been removed, on the 29th, we put up Faichun (literally means waving at spring) you know, the red banners of the lucky sayings that I have mentioned in the previous lesson to ward off NinSau (the mythical chimera).

On the 30th, which is the last day of the year, people are supposed to get together and eat. In Chinese culture, getting together to eat is important bonding time, Hong Kongers also do the same. Except, nowadays many restaurants inflate their prices, so many families tend to have this dinner much earlier to save an extra buck.

Stepping into the 1st day of the New year, this is usually the major day for people to go bainin 拜年(literally means to pay respect to the year) (meaning that you will go to someone’s place to visit and see if they are well in the new year, basically because many terrible things might have happened in the previous year, such as having Ninsau visit them and etc) bainin 拜年 is also when you will be handing out 利是 red packets if you are married, and get some if you are single. There are many rules that one should follow on this date, such as you shouldn’t clean, because you might wash away the good luck, or that you shouldn’t wash your hair, because you might wash away your money luck. Whether or not someone follows these rules strictly, it depends on the individual.

On the 2nd day, married couples have to go visit the female counterpart’s mother’s place. I do have to say I am not quite sure how it applies to a non-heterosexual marriage. I will have to look into that.

The 3rd day of the new year is known as 赤口(Red mouth), you don’t have to remember this term, it’s quite specific, but if you do remember it, it’s also great. The Red mouth day is believed to be the day that if you meet with anybody, you are likely to have an argument. So on this day, we take a break and not go visit anyone.

Finally the last day I am going to talk about is on the 7th day, this day is Everyone’s birthday 人日(literally means human day). In Chinese mythology, 女wo Nuwa, a goddess that is a chimera of human and a dragon, was a part of the creation of heaven and earth. For the first 6 days, she fixed the world, defeated monsters, and on the 7th day, she created humans with clay. So therefore, on the7th day, it is everyones birthday. Isn’t it so interesting, just drawing a parallel of Christianity, God also created heaven and earth in 7 days, although, god created animals and humans on the 6th day and rested on the 7th.

Lucky CNY sayings:

So if you don’t speak Cantonese but have been to 拜年 bainin (paying respect to the year by visiting others), you might have felt awkward not sure what to say.

Here are a couple of easy one that I am going to teach you, so at least you can pretend.

The most commonly used ones are:

恭喜發財 - Gung Hey Fat Choy meaning “congrats on your wealth!”

新年快樂 - san nin fai lok meaning Happy new Year!

身體健康 - San tie geen hong meaning “Healthy bodies!” - Good health

鼠年大吉- shu nin dai gut - meaning “Rat year good luck!”

The first 2 words 鼠年 means year of the rat, the first character 鼠 indicates the year of the chinese zodiac, let’s say next year is ox 牛, then you will say 牛年大吉 Finally the most exciting thing, food for CNY新年!

CNY food:

One of the most common foods that we have during CNY is 年糕 (Rice cake), I must admit I am not a huge fan. 年糕 (Rice cake) is made with rice, sugar, red dates, chestnuts, lotus leaves etc. In different parts of Chinese speaking places, their recipes are different. 年糕(Rice cake), first character nin means year, like new year 新年, the second character 糕 is a homophone, meaning it has the same sound as another word 高(meaning tall or high), so 年糕 has the meaning of getting higher or taller every year. You can find this in many places, some Chinese restaurants will even force you to buy it. Sometimes we eat 湯圓 (Literally means soup circles) but really they are glutinous rice balls, inside people usually fill it up with peanut, red beans, sesame and whatnot. They are usually cooked in a sweet soup with some ginger. My favourite is the peanut one, if you have a chance you should try. 湯圓 (the glutinous rice balls) because it has the character 圓 means circle like I said, it’s a complete circle, this word is taken to mean family together harmoniously. That’s why we eat 湯圓. The last two I am going to talk about, if you have never encountered them before you might find them gross, but trust me, they are not too bad. The first one is 髮菜 (literally means hair vegetables. They are actually black moss. So kind of like seaweed although they truly look like black coloured hair. The next one is called 蠔豉 Dried oysters. This one is not as intimidating. 髮菜hair vegetables and 蠔豉dried oysters are usually eaten together. The reason why we eat them, is because they are again homophones of 發財好市 (meaning getting wealthy and good market), although the tones are slightly different.

List of Vocab:

拜年 - Paying respect for the year, also means to visit friends and family during CNY

恭喜發財 - “congrats on your wealth!”

新年快樂 - Happy new Year!

身體健康 - “Healthy bodies!” - Good health

鼠年大吉- “Rat year good luck!”

年糕- Rice cake

湯圓 - glutinous rice balls

髮菜 - Black moss

蠔豉 - Dried oysters