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Lunar New Year

Chinese New Year 2016: the meaning behind plants and decorations we display

VIDEO: From lai see to fai chun, and kumquat to water lily, a Hong Kong expert explains the traditions behind them and how they are believed to confer good luck on those who buy and give them

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 February, 2016, 12:31pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 February, 2016, 2:02pm

The biggest festival in the Chinese calendar in Hong Kong is Lunar New Year, with many shopkeepers selling a vast array of red decorations and flowers for the event.

Steve Cheung, of the University of Hong Kong’s sociology department, who studies Chinese customs, explains the meaning behind some of them.

WATCH Steve Cheung browse Causeway Bay stalls selling Lunar New Year items

Children and young people who are not yet married will receive lai see – or red packets – containing money. The cash is placed in a decorated red envelope, and the younger generation must give blessings to the older generation before receiving the lai see.

Traditionally, Cheung says, lai see was given in coins, but these days banknotes are given. While the amounts vary, it is most important not to put in any amount with a “4” in it, as the number four in Chinese sounds similar to “death”.

Red decorations also adorn people’s homes and the lobbies of office buildings and apartment buildings. They are called fai chun – long rectangular sheets of paper with Chinese characters on them, as well as square ones that usually feature the word fook, or “fortune”.

Cheung says the rectangular ones usually have auspicious meanings, such as “wishing you good health”, “happy new year”, or “travel safely”, and are typically pasted near the door or window. The square ones with the word “fortune” are sometimes hung upside down as a way for fortune to arrive at your home.

Another way to brighten up the home for the holiday is with flowers and plants. While many like to give orchids at this time of year as gifts, there are some items of greenery you must have if you hope for a good year ahead.

One is the narcissus (water lily), only available at this time of year. It is said that when these fragrant flowers bloom at Lunar New Year, the family will have a lucky year ahead.

Another is the kumquat tree that grows mini oranges called kut, which is said to ensure a family will have many generations to come. A variation on this is “five-generation fruit” – a plant with five pods protruding from its base and oval, yellow-orange fruit.

Other auspicious plants to have at home are bamboo shoots, cherry and plum blossom branches, pussy willows, and peonies.

Where to buy flowers and decorations

Victoria Park

February 2-7, 12 noon-12 midnight

On the night of February 7 to 8, stalls are open until 6am

To get there, take the MTR to Causeway Bay (take exit E) or Tin Hau (take exit A2, and turn left).

Fa Hui Park

February 2-7, 12 noon-12 midnight

On the night of February 7 to 8, stalls are open until 6am

To get there, take the MTR to Prince Edward (take exit A, walk along Playing Field Road, turn left into Sai Yee Street, then right into Boundary Street, and Fa Hui Park will be on your left).