It's been over 40 years since I lived in Hong Kong, and 28 since I last visited. I know a lot has changed over the years, but I also know the traditions and essence remain the same. It was in Hong Kong that I experienced my first Lunar New Year, and where my intrigue of Chinese culture began.
I have very fond memories of my time there, and look forward to making my way back to this vibrant city.
Unlike New Year's Day, Lunar New Year is actually a Spring Festival that lasts over 2 weeks. Officially 15 days (or 16 when New Year's Eve is included), the festivities start with families reuniting for dinner on New Year's Eve. With nearly 20% of the world's population being Chinese, you can imagine just how busy travel is during this time!
The festival celebrates the end of the coldest days of winter - time to welcome Spring, new beginnings and fresh starts.
The end of the Spring Festival is celebrated with the Lantern Festival - a time for reunions, socializing and celebrating freedom. The history behind the lanterns is lengthy and may date back as far as the Han Dynasty (206 BC).
One fun fact is that the day of the Lantern Festival is also sometimes called China's true Valentine's Day.
In the ancient days, girls were not allowed to venture outside their homes by themselves, except on the last day of the Spring Festival. On this night, though, they were allowed to stroll freely, play games, light lanterns and interact with men. Many a romantic story came about, thus designating this as their Valentine's Day.
Other fun facts:
Chinese mythology states that the monster Nian would wreak havoc every New Year's Eve, terrorizing villagers and eating everything in it's path before disappearing back into the forest or into the sea. Villagers would flee to the mountains to avoid it.
One year an old beggar (others say a young boy) decided to fight off the monster. When the Nian rushed into the village, it was greeted with red paper framing the door of the brightly lit home where the beggar was and the sound of firecrackers. As it turns out, the only things the Nian feared were the color red, bright lights and loud sounds.
Terrified, the Nian fled the village. When the villagers returned, the old beggar was gone, thus people believing he came from the heavens to help them.
Since then, every Lunar New Year, households hang red paper around their doors, keep their homes brightly lit and set off firecrackers to keep the Nian away.
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