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Rabbits everywhere, a race for orchids: Chinese New Year in Hong Kong

After three years of travel restrictions due to the pandemic, millions of families around the world are celebrating the Lunar New Year more freely.

The Year of the Rabbit starts on Sunday, but last week preparations were made at lightning speed in cities like Hong Kong. Since beginning the gradual reopening of borders with China earlier this month, Hong Kong has welcomed an influx of citizens traveling between the city and the mainland for Spring Festival celebrations.

In mainland China, Chunyun, the 40-day period around the festival, usually sees many people travel to their hometowns to be with their families. This event is sometimes referred to as “the world’s largest migration” in the region. According to the Associated Press, Chinese travelers are staying closer to home this year, preferring Hong Kong and Macao to destinations like Bangkok; Bali, Indonesia; and Hokkaido, Japan.

In Hong Kong, markets are dominated by red and gold decorations as excited shoppers search for the perfect festival orchid to ring in the new year. The city bustles and bustles with excited children.

Students of all ages look forward to days off this week to commemorate the holiday and relax. Victoria Harbor has a dazzling art and light installation on the water. Popular tourist destinations like the Peninsula Hotel are preparing for an influx of visitors.

Within the Chinese zodiac, the year of the rabbit is poised to take over the year of the tiger. Throughout Hong Kong, images of rabbits cover photos, stuffed animals and inflatable balloons, popping up in the same way that inflatable snowmen dominate US front yards every December.

In Chinese culture, the rabbit is considered the luckiest of all 12 animals. It symbolizes grace, elegance and beauty. People born in the year of the rabbit are believed to be calm and peaceful.

For some in Hong Kong, this spring festival marks a long-awaited reunion with loved ones. Joyce Ma-Lachmann was born and raised in the city, but moved to Germany last year after marrying her husband, Martin Lachmann.

“The festival is a bridge for our family, connecting one place to another and connecting the bloodlines.”

— Joyce Ma-Lachmann

The couple, expecting a child, are back in town to see her family after being apart for the past year. On Friday, they went to Che Kung Temple.

“The festival is a bridge for our family, it connects one place to another and connects the bloodlines,” said Ma-Lachmann.

On Saturday, Nicholas Yeung and his girlfriend, Lara Lam, were getting ready to leave from Hong Kong to Macau, just a few hours away by shuttle bus. Lam is a Macao citizen working in Hong Kong. The couple went to Macao every Lunar New Year for family gatherings, but they stopped after China’s strict coronavirus protocols kicked in.

Yeung was born and raised in Hong Kong, where he says his New Year’s celebrations were both similar and different from his experiences celebrating with Lam’s family.

“The festive atmosphere and rich traditional customs for Lunar New Year celebrations are fading due to the rapid processes of social change such as urbanization, westernization and modernization in Hong Kong,” said Yeung.

“For me, the Lunar New Year is really just a great excuse to meet people and get together with the ones you love,” he added.

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