Lunar New Year in Hong Kong: worshippers flock to Taoist temple to seek blessings for Year of the Dragon

Lunar New Year in Hong Kong: worshippers flock to Taoist temple to seek blessings for Year of the Dragon

Thousands waited in line at one of Hong Kong’s largest Taoist temples on Lunar New Year’s Eve to participate in the ritual of presenting their first incense sticks in the Year of the Dragon to pray for happiness and good health.

Doors to Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin Temple opened at 9pm to welcome worshippers ahead of the offering ritual later at night. From 11pm, worshippers made a beeline to place joss sticks before a painting of the Great Immortal Wong, in hopes for good luck for the year ahead.

The temple is expecting 50,000 to 60,000 worshippers to offer their first incense this year, more than double the numbers from last year’s 23,000 when the ritual first resumed after a two-year pandemic-induced suspension.

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(From left) Worshippers Amy Ie, Paper Kwai and Crystal Li. The trio are among the early birds waiting in line at Wong Tai Sin Temple on Lunar New Year’s Eve. Photo: Yik Yeung-man

Paper Kwai, 36, was one of the first to join the queue at 4pm. Dressed as a character from the Japanese anime Dragon Ball, a homage to the year’s zodiac sign, the administrator said it was his second visit in two years.

“Last year, I came because the iconic Lana Wong Ha-wai couldn’t make it so I took it upon myself to do it on behalf of her,” he said

Kwai was referring to the veteran actress in her nineties known for her extravagant outfits when attending the annual ritual. In 2023, he also met Wong’s goddaughter Amy Ie who was also at the temple on Friday.

Hong Kong worshippers flock to temple for Lunar New Year ritual after 2-year break

“I came prepared with heat pads underneath our outfits so that we can stay warm,” said Ie, who is a pain relief therapist in her twenties. “Things have been going smooth for myself, my parents and brother, which is why I’m back for the fifth time.”

Another goddaughter of Wong’s Crystal Li, a DJ in her twenties, said she would be praying for Hong Kong.

“The economy hasn’t bounced back after the pandemic,” Li said. “I hope whenever people think of a food paradise, they’d think of Hong Kong of the old times, and that Hongkongers won’t keep flocking overseas for fun.”

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Actress Lana Wong (centre) is dressed as Little Dragon Maiden from the wuxia novel The Return of the Condor Heroes. Photo: Yik Yeung-man

Wong appeared dressed as the character Little Dragon Maiden from the wuxia novel The Return of the Condor Heroes in Cantonese opera style.

An annual fixture at the temple, she only broke the streak once last year as she had left for the US, although she added she also dressed up to go worship the Great Immortal Wong in the States.

“I miss doing this in Hong Kong so much,” she said. “I am staying here for now, as I belong to Hong Kong.”

She wished for world peace and prosperity for all, adding that she hoped to be able to come to worship every year.

First-time visitor hairstylist Tsukumi Ito was also at the temple with her male friend Soko Izumi. Both are from Japan but have lived in Hong Kong for around two decades.

“I joined him this year because his luck was very good last year,” Ito, 53, said. “I am going to wish for happiness and health.”

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Worshippers offer the joss sticks at Wong Tai Sin Temple on Lunar New Year’s Eve. Photo: Yik Yeung-man

The pair arrived at about 5.30pm, bringing food and raincoats with them.

“When I first learned about this traditional activity, I thought it was very interesting,” Izumi, the 44-year-old who works in entertainment, said.

“In 2024 so far, Japan has been hit by several crises and unfortunate events, so I’d be wishing for a good start for both Japan and Hong Kong.”

The temple will open throughout the night until 9pm on Saturday with extended opening hours for the rest of the new year period until February 25.

The Great Immortal Wong, widely known as Wong Tai Sin, is a Chinese Taoist deity regarded among followers to have healing powers.

Folk wisdom has it that the first to offer their incense sticks at the main altar will receive the most blessings. This has led to the annual ritual of people queuing cheek by jowl for hours to make the first offering.

Those who are not able to make it to the temple in person could ask for blessings through an official online system operated by the temple.

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