"A man filled with the love of God is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race." Joseph Smith

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Year of the Ram - Chinese New Year!

Chinese New Year is full of traditional foods, massive decorations, festive family get togethers, gift giving, and vacation time.  In some ways, it is similar to Christmas in the West.  But the traditions steeped in thousands of years of history make experiencing New Years in Hong Kong an unforgettable occurrence.

Each year follows one of the 12 zodiac animals in the lineup of the Chinese calendar. This year is the Year of the Ram, or the Goat, or the Sheep - no distinction is made.  It is just 年羊。Nian Yang.

New Years time is early spring.  The orange or kumquat tree is prized this time of year for its yellow or golden colored fruit.  Gold is the color of royalty and wealth.  Surely good things will come your way with such a tree by your front door.  These trees, in all sizes, are available by the thousands to give to friends, business associates, and family, and nearly every store will have at least one to help welcome in good luck for the coming year.

Red envelopes decorate this kumquat tree outside our apartment. Parents put money in the red envelopes to give to children during New Years.

The blossoms of the plum tree are also highly prized.  In addition to orange and kumquat trees, you can buy a branch of a plum tree.  Not unlike a Christmas tree, take your plum tree branch home, put it in water and watch the blossoms unfold. They’ll even wrap the tree up for you just like a Christmas tree to help with the transport home.
Wrapping up a plum tree to take home.

Rows of plum trees waiting for new homes.

Bring good luck to your home or business by plastering red paper 
banners with good luck sayings to your
door posts. Bad luck will surely “pass over” your home in the coming year because of the red on your doorposts.  Hmmm…. Sounds strangely familiar….  (Exodus 12: 21-23)

Here is a shrine decorated for New Years, dedicated to the Earth God symbolized by the rock.  The Earth God is a very popular deity worthy of respect in Hong Kong.

I followed this woman up a trail to see where she was taking this tray of food.  Turns out it was an offering to the Earth God at the beginning of New Years.  Here she is lighting  incense for her offering. The offering included steamed whole chicken, rice and fruit.

New traditional clothes for children are part of the fanfare, and nearly every child we saw was dressed up for the occasion in Chinese outfits.

The New Year is a time for not only new clothes, but also clean houses, clean cars, clean bedding - all this is done before the start of the New Year.  If you clean the dirt out of your house on New Years, you will sweep away all the good luck that is forming!  Make sure all cleaning is done before hand!

Wish locks will bring your relationship good luck for sure.  A wish lock or love padlock is a padlock which sweethearts lock to a bridge, fence, gate, or similar public fixture to symbolize their love.  Typically the sweethearts' names or initials are inscribed on the padlock, and its key is thrown away to symbolize unbreakable love. (Thank you Wikipedia)

Caught these wish locks hanging out by the rams at
 the New Year Festival near Lam Tsuen village.

We visited the famed Wishing Tree in Lam Tsuen village.  Write your wish and attach it to an orange then fling it up to the tree.  If it catches on a branch, you are in luck! The higher up in the tree, the more chances of your wish coming true.

Tin Hau was a woman born in the Song Dynsasty who was able to forecast the climate and also had a knowledge of medicine.  She was able to save many people through these skills, and after her death she became known as the Goddess of the Sea. Temples all over Hong Kong are dedicated to her and worshipers come to pay homage and pray for protection from storm and for good fishing.  Here at one of the many Tin Hau temples, decorated up for New Years, a roast pig has been offered to Tin Hau inside the temple, and the Chinese Lion dance is performing to bring a blessing to the roast pig.

Another Tin Hau temple, decorated up for New Years. People will "feed" lettuce to the Lion, because the word lettuce in Cantonese also sounds like "money" - the Lion will "chew" up the lettuce and then spit it out on the ground as a blessing.  You can see pieces of lettuce strewn on the ground along with colorful confetti. 
We visited a New Year Fair - along with thousands of other people! The crowds are immense!  New Years fairs spring up throughout Hong Kong, selling flowers (a most popular gift item) and all other kinds of New Years gifts.  

Solanum mammosum, a popular Hong Kong New Years fruit because of its gold color.
 Also, it often has up to five nubs on the end, which reminds people that five generations can live
 harmoniously under one roof.

Orchids abound in Hong Kong, but ever more so at New Years. It is the flower of choice for bringing in good luck and good wishes for the New Year.

There is far too much to see and do to catch it all for New Years in Hong Kong, but included for us was a wonderful dinner with the Area Presidency and their wives, as well as the other Area Office missionaries.  

Making dumplings

The fireworks included 23888 fireworks for 23 minutes!

View from the Area Office building

Chinese New Year - a happy time for everyone!

Happy Chinese New Year everyone - 
from our side of the world to yours!

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