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Building new memories for the Lunar New Year

By Pauline Chiou, CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Many Chinese buy symbolic gifts meant to attract good luck for the Lunar New Year
  • The market in Hong Kong's Victoria Park is a popular shopping destination
  • Chiou admits she's a "late bloomer" to many Chinese traditions
  • Many people won't get haircuts or dust during the first few days of the New Year

Hong Kong, China (CNN) -- My parents are from Taiwan, but my siblings and I were raised in the United States. As a family, we didn't celebrate Lunar New Year much, aside from collecting colorful calendars from Chinese restaurants.

I have some vague memories from childhood of receiving red envelopes ("hong bao") from my relatives or my parents' friends.

The red envelopes always had a small amount of money inside. I also remember visiting my grandparents in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, during one Lunar New Year. I was probably about 4. I recall standing outside their house and watching an elaborate dragon dance cascade down the street.

Now that I live in Hong Kong as a reporter, I am fascinated by the traditions that surround Lunar New Year. I may be a late bloomer to the traditions, but it's fun to observe.

Video: Year of tiger and your money
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Everything revolves around symbolism and money. No surprise -- this is Hong Kong!

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The color red is everywhere, symbolizing prosperity. The Chinese character for luck ("fu") is on glittery placards that people put in their homes. Families often put the "fu" sign upside down over the front door to help guide good fortune into the home.

I've learned that many residents of Hong Kong will not cut their hair within the first three days of the new year, since this would be symbolic of cutting away your good fortune. They also don't dust, sweep or vacuum during this time because it would represent removing the good luck the new year has brought into their home. As one woman told me, "We'd rather let the dust stay quiet and still than sweep away our good fortune."

Local banks are also very busy this time of year because many customers order newly printed, crisp bills. The bank deducts the amount ordered from the customer's account. The reasoning behind this tradition is that it's good luck to give away new money in the new year to younger relatives or co-workers.

The most popular bank note is 20 Hong Kong dollars, which is about $2.60 in U.S. currency.

Many Chinese are superstitious and will not give away an amount with the number 4 in it, since the Chinese word for 4 ("si") sounds similar to the word for death. They also don't give away an amount of money that's an odd number, since odd numbers are associated with funerals.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg ... but I'll stop here and just wish you a happy and prosperous Year of the Tiger!

 
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