HONG KONG (AFP) – Carnivals and fireworks are Hong Kong’s trademark Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations – but tens of thousands of people also travel to a remote village to hurl oranges at a tree in hopes of making their wishes come true.
In a tradition stretching back more than a century, visitors to the “wishing tree” in Lam Tsuen – a village near the city’s northern border – come from all over the city and mainland China to take part.
Queues of hopefuls write their wishes on red pieces of paper, attach them to oranges and throw the fruit at a tree in the village square. If the orange lodges on a branch, the wish will come true – or so the belief goes.
A banyan tree used for the tradition was replaced with a plastic replica after an accident in 2005, which saw a branch loaded with oranges snapped off and injured an elderly man and a child. Plastic fruit is now also used.
But that has not put off the crowds of annual visitors who started flocking to the tree Thursday and will do so for more than a week over the holiday period.
“I wished happiness and good health for my family. Everybody is looking for a good sign,” Frank Fung, a 26-year old computer engineer, told AFP after he landed his wish on a tree branch with one throw.
“I wished to have a child last year and now I am pregnant!” said Xiao Xiaomei, in her 30s, who works in retail.
Children, couples and the elderly, with many wearing bright red for good luck, threw their wishes, which cost HK$25 ($3.22).
“It’s my first time here, I think it’s wonderful, I think it’s traditional – it’s real Hong Kong,” said Helen Friel, 27, from Ireland, who has worked in Hong Kong for three years as a teacher.
“I wished for good health and wealth for my family.”
The tradition was started by Chinese fishermen who would write their wishes onto paper and throw them onto trees at the Lunar New Year, said Luke Lam, organiser of the festival, who was born in Lam Tsuen and has lived there most of his life.
The fishermen would travel from the city’s southern ports and visit temples to make offerings to protective deities and throw up wishes en route to the final temple in Lam Tsuen, Lam said.
“They would also leave red packets (containing money) attached to their wishes – when I was little I opened the red pockets after they left,” Lam said of the fishermen’s offerings.
It is a custom to hand out red packets containing money – known as lai see – to relatives, friends and acquaintances during Chinese New Year.
Originally attached to stones, the wishes were fixed to real oranges in the mid-1990s before the move to plastic fruit. In the past, wishing trees had also burned down as joss sticks were used to make offerings as well.
The banyan that was damaged a decade ago is still there – supported by beams.
Over the years, the public adopted the fishermen’s tradition of throwing wishes, spurred on by television soap operas which made it popular in the 1990s, said Lam, adding that the village sees more than 10,000 people a day during the Lunar New Year holidays.
“It’s very universal to make a wish,” Lam said.