Chinese New Year traditions
On the first day of Chinese New Year, people avoid getting haircuts, washing their hair, or sweeping their home, because they believe such actions will sweep or wash away good fortune.
The holiday is marked by eating “lucky” foods, such as fish (the word “fish” sounds like “surplus”) and tongyuen, a dessert made from glutinous rice balls, whose roundness and sticky texture is said to symbolize family unity.
Hong Konger’s believe certain things should never be given as gifts, including:
Clocks: In Cantonese, “to give a clock” is song zung, a phrase that means “to prepare for the end,” referring to the rites of paying one’s last respects to a loved one near the end of their life and burying them after they die. Clocks are also reminders that time is running out.
Sharp objects: Gifting knives and blades are inappropriate because they represent a severing of relationships.
Pears: The word “pear” sounds similar to the word for “depart” or “leave.”
Umbrellas: The word for “umbrella” is like the word for “separate.”
Black and white objects: These are colors of mourning, so black and white objects make for inappropriate gifts.
Four of anything: As explained above, “four” sounds like “death,” so anything that comes in a set of four is a no-no.
Green hats: In Chinese, to “wear a green hat” means “to be cuckolded.”
Coastal high-rises and skyscrapers in Hong Kong sometimes feature rectangular holes called “dragon gates.” Legend has it that dragons (which represent wisdom, courage and prosperity in Chinese culture) live in mountains. The dragon gates serve as a passageway for these mystical creatures to reach the coast, letting positive energy flow through the building as a result.
Prominent buildings with dragon gates include The Repulse Bay and the Bel-Air Residence.
Feng shui is the Chinese architectural philosophy of organizing your surroundings to attract good luck and ward off bad energy. Many superstitious locals decorate their homes with plants and position their furniture according to the principles for feng shui.
In addition, many prominent buildings in Hong Kong incorporate feng shui elements. One example is the HSBC headquarters, designed by the renowned Fosters + Partners. The escalators inside the building are set at an angle to the main entrance, to prevent evil spirits from entering. Two metal rods installed on top of the building also serve to deflect bad energy from the neighboring Bank of China Building.
In a nod to Chinese culture, the Walt Disney Company consulted a feng shui expert when they built Hong Kong Disneyland. The theme park’s entrances and attractions are positioned to attract the flow of good qi (energy).
Before the start of the horseracing season, the Hong Kong Jockey Club hosts a prayer ceremony called bai sun at the Sha Tin Racecourse. Joss sticks are burned, offerings of roast suckling pigs are laid out and prayers for a prosperous racing season are offered to the gods.
Hong Kong’s racehorses tend to bear auspicious names like “Lucky,” “Happy” and “Winner.” It’s considered back luck to wear new clothes to the races, and jockeys going through a losing streak are often sent to get haircuts to shed their bad luck.
Avoidance of the number four
In Cantonese, the word for “four” sounds similar to the word for “death,” so Hongkongers avoid the number at all costs. In many buildings, floor numbers like four, fourteen and twenty four are skipped. People avoid gifting things in sets of four, and even prefer phone numbers without the number four.
Lucky number eight
Conversely, the number eight is considered auspicious because the word “eight” sounds similar to the word “prosper.” That’s why people prefer addresses and telephone numbers that include the number eight. Around Chinese New Year, seasonal goods bear prices such as $88, $128 and $388.
In 2016, a car license plate bearing the number 28 was auctioned for a record HK$18.1 million (US$2.3 million), because the numbers “two” and “eight” together sound like “easy fortune” in Cantonese!