Both greetings refer to the same set of four Chinese characters that literally means “Congratulations and wishing you prosperity!” But guess what is more appropriate to use and say when you are in the Philippines.
(Yes, it doesn’t even mean “happy new year”—more on this later)
“Kung Hei Fat Choi” has obviously been the more popular one, commonly said and printed on banners, advertisements and different forms of media. But this greeting is Cantonese.
Considering that majority of the Chinese Filipinos here in the Philippines speak the Hokkien dialect, I recommend that we say the greeting in Hokkien, which is pronounced and spelled as "Kiong Hee Huat Tsai."
Tsinoys will appreciate to hear the greeting in the dialect they understand. Cantonese is one of the nine other groups of dialects in China and is most commonly spoken in Hong Kong, Guangdong, and Macau. Hokkien is the dialect spoken in Fujian province where most of the Chinese-Filipinos come from.
If you happen to be in China and if you want to say the greeting in Mandarin, China's official language (and spoken by the most number of people in the world), pronounce the greeting as "Kong Xi Fa Tsai" (written and spelled formally as "Gong Xi Fa Cai").
I suspect some Hong Kong or Cantonese restaurant started to popularize the
Cantonese greeting here, which is weird because there is a very scant population of Tsinoys from Guangdong or Hong Kong. Quite disappointingly, the Cantonese greeting has been mercilessly repeated and spread in print ads and gigantic banners in commercial banks, restaurants, department stores and shopping malls supposedly owned by Hokkien-speaking Tsinoys who should know the difference.
I remember a jingle from a TV commercial of a fast food chain years ago that goes: “Kung Hei Fat Choi ay nandito na….” Ironic, because the fast food chain is owned by a Chinese-Filipino who hails from Fujian.
Well, Tsinoys do not understand and speak “Kung Hei Fat Choi.”
It’s like saying “Maayong buntag” (Good morning) to a Tagalog who doesn’t understand and speak Bisaya.
So, let's start banishing "Kung Hei Fat Choi" from our vocabulary and start to pratice
saying the greeting in Hokkien, "Kiong Hee Huat Tsai," which is widely understood by Tsinoys here.
Spread the word, “Kiong Hee Huat Tsai!”
If you want to greet your friend “Happy New Year” in Mandarin, say it as “Xin Nien Kwai Le” (formally written as “Xin Nian Kuai Le”). In Hokkien, say it as “Sin Ni khòai lok.”
Also, don't also be confused with the lion and dragon dance, which are
sometimes interchanged. The four-legged dancing creature is a lion, which is maneuvered by two dancers (one moves the head while the other moves the tail). It has wiggling ears and blinking eyes and is the one that also goes around the streets and reach for the angpao or red envelope hung at the door. It is usually led by a masked man with a fan.
On the other hand, a dragon has a longer body that is maneuvered by more
dancers. It is a guided by a man that holds a dragon ball.
Point out the difference when people say "There’s the dragon!" while the dancing creature turns out to be a lion.
Kiong Hee Huat Tsai!