It has become a habit for many Hongkongers to seize the opportunity to travel during festive periods. But for families who elect to enjoy the Christmas and New Year holidays at home, the city offers plenty of things to do and places to go. There is so much going on that some people, like author Cindy Miller Stephens and her family, say they never travel during this period.
'We believe this is one of the best times of the year to enjoy all that Hong Kong has to offer. There are so many wonderful things to do,' says Miller Stephens, who has three children aged six, 10 and 13.
The author of Hong Kong for Kids: A Parent's Guide, Miller Stephens relocated from the US with her husband in 1996. The couple love adventure and their eldest child is the same.
'She loved to be out and about, even as a baby,' she says. 'We spent many days with her in a baby carrier, discovering Hong Kong as a family. Because places were neither easy to find, nor well-advertised, I started taking notes so I could share these places with friends.'
Their explorations as a family eventually led to her 2004 guidebook, which has been updated and is being re-released this month.
There are added bonuses to staying in Hong Kong this time of the year, Miller Stephens says. The weather is generally mild and sunny, and with many people travelling, the crowds are often far smaller.
Many residents make a beeline for more publicised seasonal attractions, such as the festive lighting along Victoria Harbour and the Tourism Board's Winterfest displays. This year's highlights include an Ice Wonderland, with ice-skating rink, set up at Centenary Garden in East Tsim Sha Tsui, and a Holiday of Tiffany Treasures in Statue Square featuring a blue-lit Christmas tree and a carousel.
Miller Stephens, however, favours places that are relatively off the beaten track. Among the best places to visit with children at this time, she says is Peng Chau island. 'There is a lovely vibe, no cars, good food, easy walks with great views. Best of all, there is a fantastic pottery studio where the kids can take a one-hour impromptu pottery course and learn something about the art of working with clay.'
Inspiration Lake is another favourite. The public park built by Disneyland is not widely used during the week, but big enough that visitors won't feel overwhelmed when it is crowded on weekends, she says. Miller Stephens likes it for its 'real grass you can relax on, pedal boats for rent, family bikes for rent, a lovely playground with water features and a convenience store stocked with everything from mosquito repellent, to hot dogs to bottles of wine'.
The BMX Park in Kwai Chung, offers 'a great outing for older kids, or kids who are good bike riders', she says. This specially designed BMX bike course provides lessons, gear and bikes - everything needed to learn this exciting form of riding.
Since this is an outdoor course and completely open to the elements, she adds, the visit works best in cooler, dry weather.
On wet days, Miller Stephens suggests local museums. Her guide book recommends 10 institutions as being child-friendly, but her personal favourite is the Hong Kong Heritage Museum in Sha Tin. Its facilities include a children's discovery zone, which has 'wonderful hands-on exhibits for kids' along with regular educational activities for the family. And it is open on Christmas, Boxing and New Year's days.
Other indoor options for the family this holiday season include taking in one or more musical or theatre performances.
There is a school of thought that maintains it just would not be Christmas without seeing The Nutcracker. And this month, in addition to Nutcracker in 3-D being released in cinemas, the Hong Kong Ballet is again staging a production of the classic story about a little girl who receives a magical nutcracker that sends her on an enchanted journey. Running until December 26 at the Cultural Centre's Grand Theatre in Tsim Sha Tsui, it is the company's 15th staging of a version featuring choreography by the troupe's former artistic director Stephen Jefferies - and it will be the last. So those who have been dithering about whether to check it out had better decide quickly.
There will also be plenty of choice for classical music enthusiasts. On December 23 and 24, Australian maestro Guy Noble conducts Russian soprano Elvira Fatykhova, trumpeter Jon Dante, the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra and the Hong Kong Children's Choir for the Symphony of Christmas Angels concerts at the Cultural Centre Concert Hall.
And in Hong Kong Park, the City Chamber Orchestra gets into the festive spirit leading the annual Christmas Concert in the Park event on December 24 organised by RTHK Radio 4. This year, the Hong Kong Police Band will kick off the programme, entitled Mozart Bonbons, which also features performances by soprano Yuki Ip and the Hong Kong Youth Choir.
On December 30 and 31, Austrian conductor Johannes Wildner leads the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra in concerts entitled A Viennese New Year, featuring a mainly Strauss programme.
Cheers!, the Leisure and Cultural Services Department's series of international acts, also brings plenty of family-friendly material.
This afternoon, puppetry, music and animation combine in The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer, an Australian production about exploring the ocean at the Cultural Centre Studio Theatre, while local company Jumbo Kids Theatre performs A Fantastic Journey @ X'mas - a multi-arts show about a girl named Ah Lui who gets a magical train ticket that sends her off on an extraordinary journey one Christmas - at Tuen Mun Town Hall. The show will run again at Sai Wan Ho Civic Centre from December 23 to 25.
Daring tumblers from the Guangzhou Acrobatic Troupe of China show off their amazing skills in performances at Tuen Mun Town Hall on December 24, Sha Tin Town Hall on December 25 and Yuen Long Theatre on December 26-27.
And the Red Star Red Army Chorus offers Russian dance, military songs, folk tunes and movie theme songs at Tsuen Wan Town Hall on December 29 and Tuen Mun Town Hall on December 30.
But for something really offbeat, try the Vegetable Orchestra of Austria which makes music with instruments made from fresh vegetables. At the end of their Onionoise concerts (Ngau Chi Wan Civic Centre on December 30, Tai Po Civic Centre on December 31 and Yuen Long Theatre on January 1), lucky members of the audience also get a serving of fresh vegetable soup.
So come rain or shine, there looks to be plenty to keep the family entertained over the holidays.