Celebrate the Year of the Rat in Hong Kong

The Chinese New Year starts on 25th January 2020 and seeing in the New Year in Hong Kong is a great way to enjoy a traditional occasion in a modern city. The Chinese Year is based on the lunar calendar and there is some debate about the exact times, so the celebrations tend to cover several days, if not weeks. You can count on festivities continuing until 4th February this year as the 11 days of the Spring festival mark the start of the Year of the Rat.

The Rat is the first of all zodiac animals. According to one myth, the Jade Emperor said the order would be decided by the order in which they arrived at his party. The Rat tricked the Ox into giving him a ride. Then, just as they arrived at the finish line, Rat jumped down and landed ahead of Ox, becoming first. Unlike our perception of this rodent, in Chinese culture, rats were seen as a sign of wealth and surplus.

Over half million UK citizens visit Hong Kong each year and, despite the recent protests which received worldwide news coverage, the city is considered safe. There is no restriction or advice against travelling from the Foreign Office. Hong Kong is an exciting melting pot of different influences, reflecting the culture's mix of the territory's Chinese roots with the culture brought to it during its time as a British colony. It also mixes a modern way of life with traditional Chinese practices which means that feng shui is taken very seriously and buildings often lack any floor number that has a 4 in it, due to its similarity to the word for "die" in Cantonese.

Once in Hong Kong, there are plenty of great activities to choose from, including the free annual parade, this year sponsored by Cathay Pacific, at West Kowloon Cultural District Art Park. With over 50 performers including balloon artists from Japan, acrobats from Finland and dancers from America’s Got Talent, this will be a spectacle worthy of inclusion in your Instagram story.

On the second day of the New Year, head down to Tsim Sha Tsui on the harbour for one of world’s best firework displays. Alternatively hire a boat and watch the sky light up from the sea.

Then the day after, it is time to go to the races. The Sha Tin racecourse will be adorned with lanterns and there will even be a lion dance. For race fans, one of the major attractions is the Chinese New Year Cup and this is great opportunity to test your luck.

Whatever your luck brought you at the race, you might want to make a wish. During Chinese New Year pay a visit to the Lam Tsuen Wishing Trees in the New Territories and participate in the Hong Kong Well Wishing Festival.

To join in on the fun, buy a piece of joss paper (usually tied to an orange) and write your wish on the paper. You’ll then throw the orange and its attached paper onto the tree (the higher, the better). With some luck, your orange will catch on a branch, and your joss-paper wish will be granted as a result! Locals believe that the higher your joss paper makes it on the tree, the greater the chances your wish will be granted.

The trees get so full of wishes, that wishes are also made by tying joss paper to nearby wooden racks or imitation trees. The trees are located near the Tin Hau Temple in Fong Ma Po Village, New Territories.

If Hong Kong is on your wish list getting there is easy with flights available from Emirates, Cathay Pacific and Qatar. Just make sure you book the best meet and greet parking at Gatwick Airport so you avoid all the hassle of trying to find a parking space.

By Sarah Anglim at 23 Jan 2020

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