A beginner’s class

As told to Bridget Barnett

Traditions, superstitions and auspicious symbols — there’s plenty of them to consider during the arrival of a new lunar year. Green to the subject, intrepid writer Bridget Barnett set out to investigate at Lane Crawford’s Hong Kong headquarters, quizzing the team for insights and their own interpretations regarding some of the holiday’s most significant traditions. Here, she shares her learnings around five topics.


Red will forever be deemed an auspicious colour at Chinese New Year, as it is believed to ward off evil spirits, but there are other lucky colours that differ from year to year, too. These will depend on particular frequencies, strengths and affinities. For 2020, the year of the rat, the colour green is very auspicious for almost all the animal signs. Colours to avoid wearing during the festival include white and black, because they are associated with bad luck and funerals.


Lunar New Year food is often chosen because it sounds lucky, and in turn, brings good fortune. For example, rice cakes named nian gao sound like “higher year” in Mandarin and symbolise better grades. “Fish”, pronounced yu, is a homonym for the Chinese word for “surplus”, which is why it is served as a finale during an eight-course celebratory meal (eight is a lucky number). The fish should also never be turned over on the plate, because doing so symbolises a boat being flipped. It should also never be finished, as a little leftover meat symbolises a year of abundance.

Blooms & fruits

Exotic flowers are believed to bring good luck at home. For example, peach blossoms stand for prosperity and growth, and peonies symbolise wealth and peace. Potted plans with miniature oranges or kumquats are also popular as they are a highly auspicious symbol of abundance and happiness. Often, whole families will visit flower markets together to pick blooms and plants for their homes and to give to visitors.

Red packets

Referred to as lai see in Cantonese and hang bao in Mandarin, red envelopes are exchanged between family and colleagues during the Lunar New Year. While it varies between regions, married people often give red packets to single friends and acquaintances, and larger amounts are given by elders and parents. The notes should be crisp, and both hands should be used to receive lai see. Gung hei fat choi, which translates to “wishing you great happiness and fortune” is the phrase to say when receiving a packet.


Sweeping before New Year’s Eve is essential for cleaning out all the luck accumulated over the year past. Dirt should be swept out the back door of the home, as sweeping across the front doorway symbolises sweeping one’s family away. When it comes to washing oneself, pomelo leaves are believed to expel any evil and bring in good health, so are often boiled and bathed in. As the word “hair” is pronounced similarly to “fortune”, it shouldn’t be washed on New Year’s Day as it’s believed to rinse away good luck for one whole year. Chopping hair is believed to cause life to be cut short, too.

Health, wealth and happiness to you, in this upcoming Year of the Rat!

2020-01-08 00:01:00.0

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