Snow-deprived Hong Kong sounds like an odd pick for a winter getaway, but holidays in this former British colony explode with more Western tradition than Americans realize. Known as the Big Lychee, the island refuses to get out-Christmased by any other metropolis. Megawatt light shows put Vegas to shame. Holiday trees and festive displays exceed the imagination.
This is big stuff for a tiny land. Seven million inhabitants teeter on 426 square miles — less than one-third the area of Rhode Island, with seven times as many people.
Cramped conditions aside, residents thrive. Instead of squishing together inside shoe box apartments for a Christmas meal, locals head outdoors to make memories. Most don’t buy trees to display at home. They take photos with favorites on public display instead.
From mid-November through New Year’s Day, the island struts its stuff with Hong Kong WinterFest, a celebration in which hotels, shopping centers and restaurants put holiday creativity in overdrive.
Attending Christmas tea is imperative. Major hotels present dainty morsels with flourishes. The Peninsula offers its luxurious daily afternoon tea as well as similar holiday events for children. Meanwhile, the InterContinental Hong Kong tosses its scones into the ring with afternoon teas, and seasonal cooking and baking classes.
And who would have thought Santa would wind up here? In fact, Santa sightings are plentiful in shopping areas. The IFC Mall and the Pacific Place mall, in particular, usually offer photo ops with St. Nick.
Hankering for a wintry chill to feel nostalgic? Pull on hats and mittens and go ice skating at the Elements mall and Festival Walk shopping center. You can ferry over to Macau for Ice World Expo, Asia’s largest indoor ice exhibition, open through March. Held at the Venetian Macao hotel, the meat-locker-cold event showcases ice sculptures based on DreamWorks’ animated movie characters, including Po from Kung Fu Panda and Madagascar’s Alex the lion.
You can experience falling (fake) snow at Hong Kong Disneyland. The theme park transforms Main Street U.S.A. into Christmas Town, with a tree centerpiece festooned with 90,000 LED lights. The Christmas Illumination parade and holiday-clad Minnie and Mickey will charm any Scrooge.
Unique to Hong Kong is its nightly Symphony of Lights, a laser-light performance on Victoria Harbour. A must-do is a cruise on the Aqua Luna red-sail junk for a close-up of the extravaganza.
No trip to the Big Lychee is complete without Hong Kong’s favorite sport: shopping. Retail therapy is best at night markets, where you can bargain for kitschy gifts to take home, such as a Chairman Mao wristwatch.
When it’s an Old World atmosphere you crave, visit a European-style Christmas market at the Hullett House Hotel, with carolers, shopping and yummy delicacies.
The Hong Kong Ballet company twirls to the Nutcracker Suite at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre. Or listen to Christmas scores rendered by the majestic Hong Kong Philharmonic. Christmas choirs will perform free of charge in lobbies at the Shangri-La Hotel, Four Seasons and others.
Those seeking a spiritual rhythm can attend masses and worship services. Many English-speaking churches, such as Island Evangelical Community Church, will host Christmas Eve services with hymns, songs and traditional carols. More than 3,000 attended last year.
Holidays in Hong Kong can be addictive. Sipping tea with Chinese Santas, giving Chairman Mao piggy banks as presents, nibbling dim sum on Christmas morning: What could be more fun or more eclectic?