Hong Kong’s biggest celebration tracks with the rest of the Sinosphere: Chinese New Year. This day marks a new beginning for Hong Kongers, who greet the occasion with fresh hopes for business success and overall good fortune.
Against the Western Gregorian calendar, the Chinese lunar calendar that forms the basis of Chinese New Year shifts the holiday’s date annually based on the phases of the moon. In 2020, the holiday falls on January 25, the "Year of the Rat" that ends on February 12 of next year.
Each lunar year is dominated by one of the 12 Chinese animal signs, which in turn decides whether one’s year will be serene or stormy. Most of this depends on your own animal sign being on good terms with whichever animal sign rules the year, as well as a host of stars that decide everything from your career prospects to what color you should paint your kitchen.
Chinese New Year after 2020 will have the following dates and animal signs:
- February 12, 2021: “Metal Ox”
- February 1, 2022: “Water Tiger”
- January 22, 2023: “Water Rabbit”
Chinese New Year Traditions and Customs
Just like turkey and stockings at Christmas, Chinese New Year in Hong Kong prescribes a long list of traditions and customs. Many of them have a similar flavor to those during Christmas, such as visiting family and exchanging lai see gifts, but some are unique.
You'll find temples open around the clock, gifts piled up at the feet of the gods, and flower markets packed from floor to ceiling with kumquat trees.
The Chinese are firm believers in luck, and Chinese New Year is a veritable Russian roulette of both. Cleaning your house and using scissors invite misfortune whereas serving certain foods will bring good fortune. Following particular Chinese New Year traditions and superstitions may grant you some good juju for the coming year.
Chinese or not, you can’t go wrong with using the traditional Chinese New Year greetings, the most common being kung hei fat choi (恭喜發財), which means “happiness and prosperity."
What to See in Hong Kong During Chinese New Year
If you think Chinese New Year celebrations in your local Chinatown are interesting, you should see the great-grandaddy of them all, Hong Kong. Much of what is seen in Chinese celebrations from San Francisco to Sydney actually originated in this city. So, while different parts of China all celebrate in their own ways, Hong Kong's version is what most visitors are familiar with.
Present-day festivities cover Hong Kong-only activities like fireworks over Victoria Harbour and the international cast of characters that dance and sing their way through Tsim Sha Tsui. Celebrations in Hong Kong are spread over three days, but pre-New Year activities begin long before the first firework goes off.
- Flower markets sprout up all over Hong Kong on the week preceding New Year's Day. Travelers looking for the biggest market should venture over to Victoria Park in Causeway Bay. Tourists nearer Kowloon may want to try Mongkok’s Fa Hui Park instead.
- On New Year's Eve, the International Chinese New Year Carnival (formerly the Night Parade) winds through the West Kowloon Waterfront Promenade, kicking off a four-day festive event. More details in the next section.
- On the third day, Hong Kongers like to test their luck with horse races at Sha Tin Racecourse, where the Hong Kong Jockey Club holds the year’s biggest equestrian party culminating in the Chinese New Year Cup.
Chinese New Year Carnival at West Kowloon
Switching the location and duration has made the Night Parade even bigger this year. Now rebranded as the Cathay Pacific International Chinese New Year Carnival, the festivities take place over four days at the Art Park of the West Kowloon Cultural District.
Both international and local performing groups will take part in the daily parades along the West Kowloon Waterfront Promenade, the thousand-plus performers making up the greatest number of international performing troupes in the event’s history.
Visitors who miss the parades can still see the spectacle replay via stage performances taking place throughout the day.
Art installations throughout the venue make great selfie backdrops to remember the event by. And a 15-booth Chinese New Year Market serves up both food and fun—including the Michelin-starred Korean fishcake skewers in soup by Kelly’s Cape Bop; and workshops on balloon twisting and face painting to keep the kids occupied.
For 2020, the Chinese New Year Carnival opens on January 25, and ends at January 28; the event venue will be open from 2pm to 8pm. Visit the official site for more details.
Shortened Opening Hours
In the same way business slows to a stop during Thanksgiving and Christmas in the States, such is the case in Hong Kong during Chinese New Year. The public sector closes early on New Year Eve, meaning truncated hours for banks, post offices, and some forms of public transport. The MTR, however, will run all night on New Year Eve. Schools and offices will be closed for anywhere between two to four days.
Expect business to close up shop by 6 p.m. on New Year Eve. The restaurants that stay open will be packed with locals celebrating the holiday with their families. The flower markets will be open until dawn, but again, will be too full of people to be completely enjoyable.
Some sightseeing attractions like Disneyland and Ocean Park Hong Kong will stay open; others, like public museums, will close on the first day of the New Year, but will resume their regular hours afterward.