Raymond Leung Ping-wa knows a thing or two about Hong Kong traditions. He spent two years exploring the old settlements of Fanling, Sheung Shui, Sha Tau Kok and surrounding areas as research for his 1994 book, Heritage of Northern District. Many practices have vanished over time, but Leung, vice-chairman of the Conservancy Association Centre for Heritage, cites a few villages - Ping Shan in Yuen Long and Sheung Shui Heung among them - where traditional rituals are still practised.
"Families who want a taste of Lunar New Year atmosphere can visit those villages to see the old architectural layout and experience the festivities," he says.
Many of the customs have considerable meaning and illustrate the virtues prized in Chinese society, he says.
"For example, lighting lanterns for new offspring in ancestral halls [which is still practised in Kam Tin Heung] shows the importance that the Chinese attach to filial piety and order of seniority within a clan. Young relatives must go to the homes of the elders to express greetings during Lunar New Year. Solidarity within a clan is another virtue. That's why all the relatives in the clan gather for feasts that sometimes last for days."
Sheung Shui Heung
One of the few rural settlements that still retains a moat, originally dug as as protective barrier. Residents in the nine villages in Sheung Shui Heung are primarily from the Liu clan. The Liu Man Shek Tong ancestral hall is a declared monument. Built in 1751, it is one of the best preserved Hakka ancestral halls in Hong Kong.
An area made up of 26 villages in Tai Po district, Lam Tsuen is best known for its wishing tree, which draws many visitors during Lunar New Year. Visitors throw joss paper and offerings up into the tree and make wishes. According to folklore, the higher the offerings land in the tree, the the better the chance that the wish will come true. The Tin Hau Temple is another famous attraction.
Kam Tin Heung
This settlement in Yuen Long is one of the strongholds of the Tang clan. Best known is Kat Hing Wai, a walled village built more than 500 years ago. Houses in the compact village are set out in narrow blocks separated by small winding alleys.
Lung Yeuk Tau
Another base of the Tang clan, Lung Yeuk Tau comprises 11 villages, and features a heritage trail set up by the government. With a three-chamber structure, the Tang Chung Ling ancestral hall is among the more elaborate examples of such buildings. A carved dragon head adorns many of the tablets honouring Tang ancestors. The clan still upholds many customs including communal worship during the spring festival. A lantern-lighting ceremony for newborn boys is held on the 15th day of the first lunar month.