What does Chinese New Year mean for millennials?

Chinese New Year has always been the most important holiday for Chinese people as the country celebrates the start of the lunar calendar. The scale of Chinese New Years’ celebrations around town is comparable to America’s Fourth of July celebrations. It’s almost impossible to miss the joyous spirit out on the streets while every household dresses up their apartment for blessings and luck.

                      Different flowers represent different new year greetings and blessings. Photo: Kinnie Li

Apart from the government-held firework show, which is cancelled this year due to the Kowloon Bus tragedy, and the Cathay Pacific New Year Parade that we have for public viewing, most parents teach their kids age-old practices and conventions for Chinese New Year. As society progresses, some of these rules only appear to the new generation as outdated and superstitious tales and beliefs.

Modern Chinese New Year celebrations

Chinese New Year is a public holiday here in China, the luxury of having almost a week-off has prompted almost 6.5 million Chinese tourists to travel abroad this lunar new year – but not everyone travels for the same reason. Like the past two years, Michelle Cheung, 22, a college student from HKBU, is travelling to Osaka this Chinese New Year.  “I feel like the meaning of Chinese New Year has changed a lot over the years,” said Cheung.

Social gatherings with extended family members are one of the most significant traditions in Chinese New Year. These gatherings are the occasions that also brought about other customs, such as giving out and receiving red pockets, having “lucky food” and gift-exchanging amongst relatives.

But for Cheung and some of her peers, these social gatherings are starting to feel exhausting and gruelling as she thinks meal tables have turned into show-off stages for some of her relatives. “Basically, many relatives would just be showing off their achievements and also bragging about the salary and the job they have,” said Cheung.

Gigi Yuen, 20, an HKU student studying politics, thinks Chinese New Year has lost its festivity over the years. Traditions, like buying new clothes for the new year and decorating her flat with red banners and lucky messages, are slowly decaying in her household.

Yuen’s household is not the only household witnessing the change, Henry Ho, 21, a science student from HKU also agrees. “We would visit the Chinese New Year market every year when I was a lot younger, but not anymore since our family does not like the crowd,” said Ho.

Visiting the Lunar New Year Fair after reunion dinner is a popular activity during Chinese New Year.    Photo: Kinnie Li      

Treasuring core traditions and customs

Where does this lead us? Would the culture of Chinese New Year vanish in the future? To a lot of the older generation, Chinese New Year is almost the only time in the year when they really get to see their offspring in this hustle-bustle city.

“After all, the Chinese New Year festival and its customs are very rooted in Hong Kong,” said Cheung. Despite having certain opinions about these decade-old traditions and customs, Cheung said she would pass this tradition on to her kids, just in a different way or form. “I will just choose to spend time with my immediate family or nuclear family,” said Cheung.

Yuen’s view is no different from Cheung, agreeing that she would still celebrate Chinese New Year with her family when she has kids. “Somehow, I have forgotten about details of some traditional customs myself,” said Yuen, as she talks about the difficulty of passing on the exact same practice that’s been handed down through people’s mouth of words over the years.

To most people, Chinese New Year still only reminds them of reunion and family, be it celebrating overseas or here in Hong Kong, Chinese New Year is still the time when you spend quality time with people you love. Happy Chinese New Year!

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