Happy Year of the Snake!

For the next four days, people in Hong Kong are taking a public holiday as the Lunar New Year begins.

We say goodbye to the Dragon and welcome the Snake – the sixth animal to cross the finish line so many years ago when the great mythological race of 12 creatures was run.

Lunar Year in Asia is much like any new year celebration elsewhere – with people setting out new hopes and dreams. But in Hong Kong there are many taboos and superstitions that go along with the holiday, too.

It is normally unfair to stereotype a race or any group of people of a geographical region, but is should not be too far from the truth that most people in Hong Kong are a fortune-loving bunch.

On Chinese New Year days, greetings, things done, or things not done, mostly carry distinct money-wishing symbolism.

As a parallel to saying “Happy New Year,” Hong Kong people greet their friends and relatives, bosses and lovers with “Kung Hei Fat Choy,” meaning “wish you good fortune.”

If you happen to visit your Hong Kong friend on Lunar New Year Day and you carelessly let your host’s prized Wedgewood china cup slip off your fingers and it smashes into pieces, you won’t naturally expect a gentle smiling countenance from your host.

But to avoid being kicked out of the door, you can save the embarrassment by shouting, “Wealth to he who has blossoms on the floor!”

Trust me, smashed china looks like scattered petals, and blossoms symbolize wealth.

There are taboos to avoid, too, for fear of losing the opportunity to gain an extra dollar.

It is often said that a Chinese family in Hong Kong would not sweep the floor, clear the trash can or even take a shower on Lunar New Year’s Day. Well, that’s only for the die hard extremists. Ordinary people already have the basic hygiene sense to ignore that. And we do not see the territory’s per capita GDP to have fallen for giving up these extra precautions.

Many Hong Kong families, particularly those who run a business, like to display a peach tree on a vase, sort of like Western families putting up a pine tree for Christmas. Unlike their Western cohorts, Hong Kong families decorate their peach trees with “Lai Sees,” or red packets — each packet is a small red envelope containing a coin or, for the wealthier class, a bank note.

And on the vase is usually posted a sign with golden-painted Chinese characters bearing a message that normally means “wealth with blossoms.”

Unlike a pine tree that stands in a cone shape, a pinkish peach tree would stretch widely, and for many Chinese families in Hong Kong, the wider the tree, the better, as it symbolizes success in business.

But beware, once you display a peach tree, be sure to make it a habit to buy a tree in the years to come, or ill fortune will follow.

For those who are looking for romance, there is another peach tree superstition: if a person circles around a peach tree a few times, he or she will experience a new romantic relationship. I’ve always liked that one, and it’s easier than catching a bouquet.

The ancient Chinese were faithful star gazing fans, and Jupiter plays a special place in their celestial catalogue. It is said that in the Warring States epoch (circa 450 – 220 BC), Chinese astrologers hailed Jupiter as the “Star of the Age.” In each year, one of the constellations in the Chinese Zodiac would reach the position of Jupiter. All those born under the Zodiac sign of the new year are said to have “offended the Star of the Age,” and could expect bad luck, or even a major turn in life, such as changing jobs or moving homes.

If you happen to be of the Year of the Snake and therefore have, by default, “offended” the Star of the Age, there is still a way to avert any inevitable ill-fate, without stumbling on Macbeth’s blunder. All you need to do is to go to a nearest Chinese temple and buy a tiny stone-carved icon and wear it twenty-four hours a day all the year round. This will allow you to make peace with Jupiter, temporarily at least, until twelve years later.

Then again, maybe it’s just all superstition.

Happy New to you and your family! Kung Hei Fat Choy!

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Photo Courtesy of Pan Xunbin/Shutterstock.com