Chinese New Year Traditions From Our Tatler Community
We chat to our Tatler friends to see how they and their loved ones like to greet the Lunar New Year
As an expat living in Hong Kong, I’ve always been fascinated by celebrations surrounding Chinese New Year. And as an Indian, I can relate, as we also have our own version of New Year called Diwali. Much like Diwali, Chinese New Year is filled with customs and traditions centred around family.
From putting up decorations, preparing delicious meals and exchanging gifts, this national holiday (both here and back home) is one I eagerly look forward to. Here, eight Tatler friends share their favourite family traditions and how they plan on ringing in the New Year. On behalf of Tatler, we wish you a prosperous Year of the Ox!
“For CNY, I love to bring my kids and friends, especially overseas visitors, to Lee Tung Avenue [a colourfully decorated street in Wan Chai]. At Lee Tung Avenue, we have our annual CNY classic red lanterns on display. The kids just love it. Our double happiness couple sculpture, which my kids call ‘fatty uncle’ and ‘fatty aunty’, are also really cute and great for CNY photos. Wishing everyone a wonderful and blessed year of the Ox.” - Daryl Ng
“We typically have a large family gathering at my sister’s home. We all bring traditional Chinese dishes to this reunion lunch. Red packets for the children and helpers, and decorations and champagne to celebrate.” - Carol Murray
Antonia Da Cruz
“Chinese New Year is always about family. Our CNY traditions have vastly evolved over the years as we grew up. When we were young, our parents used to take us to their friends’ homes to bai leen [give our best wishes] and collect lai see. I remember learning about basic money management concepts and the importance of saving as a result of these customs. My mum opened bank accounts for us and would deposit our lai see money in there each year.
By the time we were about eight years old, we learned to play the famous card game Chor Dai Dee, or Big Two as it’s called in English. In our teenage years we used to go to an aunty’s home where she or my mother would take turns to be the banker and we’d try to win money. We would play all sorts of card games from Big Small, to Blackjack—betting with our lai see money. Small bets, of course. I’m happy to report that, today, none of us have a gambling addiction.
CNY is a relatively quiet affair for us at home now, as horse racing always falls within the first three days of CNY, so we usually go to the track to support my father [Tony Cruz] at the races. When you’re in your thirties, it feels a little embarrassing to take someone’s lai see. It’s just another reminder that you’re still not married.” - Antonia Da Cruz
“We’re usually not in Hong Kong for the CNY holidays. Since the kids are usually off from school we like to travel abroad. Sometimes we do a beach holiday or other times we go skiing. Whatever it may be, we’re always together as a family. My father is usually with us, too.
We begin preparations about two weeks in advance. That’s when we start gathering all the flowers for decorations and the children get the red packets ready. We buy our new clothes and shoes and typically wear red. I spend the day before CNY with my husband James’ mother and we have a Chinese tea ceremony before a big family dinner with traditional Chinese dishes—it’s a lot of food.
I spend the first day of Chinese New Year with my husband and kids. We wake up early, change into our new red clothes, wish each other good fortune and then we eat traditional carrot cake and other sweet cakes, and give the lai see to the kids.
We then have lunch with our extended family, including all the grandparents. We try to see the lion dance, wherever it is. Since we can’t travel because of Covid-19, I am trying to arrange for these dancers to come to our home. It’s so joyful and makes the ambiance so positive. It really is the season of sharing and giving.” - Jane Louey
“For me, CNY is a flight to Penang where my dad’s side of the family is. When I was a child, we’d go on a long, arduous journey to the Penang ferry at the crack of dawn, then sat cramped in the back of my dad’s car with my two sisters, driving through single-lane village roads and stopping only for Ramlee burgers (the pit-stop special in Malaysia) to get to the ferry terminal. It was the only way to get to my grandma’s house. She welcomed us with asam laksa, lor bak and other various homemade specials. We’d then scurry to get showered and wash our hair before the stroke of midnight (because you don’t wash luck away on CNY) before jumping into bed for the night.
On the morning of CNY, we’d wish our parents good fortune and then set out to visit all of our 16 grand uncles and aunties. Every aunty or uncle prepared their signature homemade Penangite snack. We’d often also visit Penang Road for its famous laksa and chendol dessert. We’d continue our visits in the afternoon then dinner would be our favourite CNY dish, lo hei, which requires everyone to yell out their new year wishes while causing a massive mess of veggies, noodles and salmon.” - Alan See
“CNY is my favourite time of the year because I get to spend it with my family in Taipei and get to relive traditions that we’ve followed my whole life. Chinese New Year in our home guarantees that every single one of your senses is stimulated. We’ll make sure you hear firecrackers, smell our incense in honour of our ancestors and see our beautiful sea of red lanterns. On the eve of CNY, my father spends the whole day making hundreds of dumplings and placing a lucky coin in ten of them, which we all hope to get (although this tradition will be re-evaluated given the latest pandemic). Nothing feels better than a warm embrace from my parents and siblings; though when I was younger, that embrace came with a red packet and now it requires giving one.” - Carol Chugani
“Wrapping dumplings together is my favourite tradition. It’s fun to gather around and chat as we’re making them and the best part is we get to eat delicious dumplings afterwards. Pre-Covid I would usually spend CNY in either Singapore or Sydney with either mine or [ my husband] Lincoln’s family. I still follow a lot of the CNY traditions from my Taiwanese heritage, such as preparing auspicious new year dishes like ‘Buddha jumps over the wall’ soup, rice cakes, turnip cakes, dumplings and mullet roe, staying up as late as possible on new year’s eve and playing mahjong” - Feiping Chang
“Our traditions are very much centered around spending time with the family. CNY for us involves eating all day with good food and good conversation. My favourite food is the turnip cake that my aunts make from scratch.” - Kayla Wong