Ask a handful of Hong Kongers what Christmas means to them and you will likely receive similar responses. Spending quality time with loved ones, celebrating the birth of Christ, or putting their busy lives on hold to take a rest and remember what is truly important in life are all likely to come up. But if you ask the same people about their favourite Christmas memories, you can watch them journey back to their childhoods, a time when the magic of Christmas was most alive.
It may have been the sheer joy of tearing open presents to discover brand new, shiny toys, dressing the Christmas tree with beautiful sparkling trinkets, getting lost in a world of colourful candy, or being carried away in the enchanting mystery of Santa Claus and his trusty reindeer. Whatever these early memories, they stay with us throughout our lives and revisit us at this special time of year.
As the Hong Kong Tourism Board brings the spirit of Christmas to life this week in its spectacular new 3D Christmas light and music show, ‘Hong Kong Pulse‘, we got to thinking, what makes Christmas so special to us and if we had to pick our favorite memory to last a lifetime, what would it be? We decided to hit the streets and put these questions to the people of Hong Kong. As we journeyed down memory lane to unlock the memory bank of Christmas past and present, we discovered just how special our city is at this time of year when the two contrasting worlds of east and west come together to warmly welcome this special day.
This fascinating contrast was beautifully captured in the memories of 85-year-old shop keeper Mak Tai Kong who, throughout the years, has seen significant changes in the way that Hong Kong people celebrate Christmas. “Traditionally the Chinese would celebrate the Winter Solstice Festival (or Dōngzhì Festival) on December 22nd when families would get together and enjoy eating and resting. This festival can be traced back to the yin and yang philosophy of balance and harmony in the cosmos. Over the years, this Chinese celebration has blended into the western festival of Christmas, which we now celebrate in the city. Nowadays, I enjoy visiting Tsim Sha Tsui after work to look at the Christmas displays and lights along the harbour.” Kong also lived through the Japanese Occupation of Hong Kong and recalls a time of extreme hardship when food was scarce and families were separated. “Young people are much happier now,” he explained. “Christmas is a time to enjoy peace.”
The merging worlds of east and west literally came to life for 23-year-old Brew Bros barista Elyce Chau who recalled her most magical memory of waking up one Christmas morning to find snow falling in her Hong Kong apartment. “The best gift I ever received was fake snow which my boyfriend made me out of paper one Christmas morning and decorated my apartment with. That one was hard to top.” She also recalled happy memories from her childhood when her family would take her to see the Christmas lights across the buildings in Tsim Sha Tsui, which over the years, have become famous the world over. “What makes Christmas time really special in Hong Kong is the amazing atmosphere when the city comes to life with festive music and lights, filling people with happiness. My family and I would capture beautiful memories together on camera. My father is a chef and has to work around Christmas so we cherish every minute we can spend with him around this time.”
Our trendy city of Hong Kong has always enjoyed doing things a bit differently and following its own unique style. We we were reminded of this when we met 36-year-old Vivian Noel Koo as she served cheery customers in the Santa Pop Holiday Shop, which her family recently opened in time for the holiday season. “Christmas in Hong Kong has always been a time to spend with relatives but in my family we like to do things differently and as kids we would have to wait until Boxing Day morning to open our presents. We couldn’t wait to rush to the Christmas tree and unwrap all of our presents (my favourite gift was Lego). When I was a little girl my brother and sisters and I would decorate the Christmas tree with beautiful ornaments. Hong Kong people really get into the festive mood at Christmas and the whole environment transforms into something magical. It’s such a joyful time of year. The Christmas lights along Victoria Harbour are really special to Hong Kong because you don’t find this in every city you visit at this time of year.”
And 57-year-old Curry Box counter assistant Lisa Lam (pictured), is also not one to follow the crowd. She enjoys trading a morning spent in the kitchen preparing the traditional home-cooked Christmas roast with a family trip to the steak house. “We love to go and see the Christmas lights on the buildings in Tsim Sha Tsui and going to visit the steak house for a special treat. My family and I are not Christian therefore we don’t follow the religious traditions, but since it’s a public holiday, we take the time to enjoy the happy atmosphere with my children. I think people in Hong Kong take Christmas seriously, particularly in the schools which encourage the children to enjoy this time of year.”
In the city that never sleeps, which bursts with energy the whole year round, you might think that time doesn’t stop for celebrating Christmas, but we learnt otherwise on the final stop of our festive journey to The Roaster café (hey, you can’t blame us for trying to keep warm). Life is busy for 25-year-old barista Markgor Leung (pictured), but that doesn’t stop him from taking time out to enjoy the special day in his home city.
“My life is very busy with working and planning my wedding and my parents are very busy too, but we always make sure we spend Christmas together” he said. “I used to love unwrapping my presents on Christmas morning, the best gift I ever received was a Gameboy with a Pokemon game, but now that I am older, this time of year is more about spending time with my family and fiancé. Just being able to spend time together is the best gift I could ask for. Christmas is a Western holiday, but Chinese people like special events and enjoying the atmosphere. To them the meaning of Christmas is about having family time.”
Whatever Christmas means to us, and however we remember it in the years to come, there is no doubt that Hong Kong warmly embraces the spirit of the season in its own unique way. ‘Hong Kong Pulse’ is a shining example of this as we watch the magic of Christmas unfold in eight action-packed minutes of 3D spectacular glory that bursts with energy, excitement, and rich diversity the only way this city knows how. And as you marvel at giant snowflakes falling through the sky, trees transforming into reindeer, and childhood toys coming to life on the giant canvas of the Hong Kong Cultural Centre, you will soon realise that Christmas doesn’t have to live in the past, because it is still very much alive in the present.
Unlock your Christmas memory bank and visit Pulse from December 17th to 29th.
Click here for more information about ‘Hong Kong Pulse’.