The Chinese Lunar New Year or Chinese New Year is without a doubt one of the most important celebrations in Singapore. This is in part due to the large Chinese population residing here in Singapore.
This Chinese new year is the year of the Pig. And many Chinese families are already sprucing up their homes by adding fresh flowers and plants. Why? Because flower blossoms are believed to bring fortune and prosperity, according to the Chinese saying 花開富貴 (“blossom flowers bring wealth”). That is why flowery plants available from your local florists store – such as the pussy willow, anthoriums, cymbidiums, marigold, chrysanthemums, peonies and the tangerine tree make up the most popular favourites.
Take a walk down any street in Singapore during this festive new year and you’ll be treated to the non-stop chant of cymbals and the barrage of fireworks booming. Also, the Lunar New Year is a time where celebrants literally paint the town red. From red decor to traditional Chinese costumes, the colour red symbolizes prosperity and luck which is especially important to the Chinese.
However, Chinese New Year is not all mandarin oranges, red packets, hampers and ladies in cheongsams. Here, we delve into the history that goes behind the Chinese Lunar New Year.
The Myth behind It
It is believed that the tradition of observing the Lunar New Year first originated in ancient China where villagers would leave offerings of food to a mythical beast known as ‘Nien’.
The ‘Nien’ would devour crops and livestock and even prey on innocent men, women, and children residing in remote villages. In order to appease this mythical creature, offerings in the form of food were left on their doorsteps to ward of the creature.
Later on, the villagers realized that beast could be scared off with fireworks and the colour red. Ever since then, villagers would hang red lanterns and banners outside of their homes to frighten the Nien. Along with this, they would also set off firecrackers which further discouraged the creature from encroaching on their property.
Ever since, these traditions were carried forward and handed down from generation to generation. The food meant for the ‘Nien’ would be feasted on by family members and the colour red would become a popular choice of colour for attire with firecrackers being set off every year.
What we particularly love about Chinese New Year is how the town is literally painted red by happy revellers. As you wander the streets taking in the sights, you’ll notice that red is the particularly dominant colour. From costumes to decorations and in some cases even food, red and gold are splashed around all over town. The colour red is believed to symbolize prosperity, joy, and luck.
Clothing is also another important symbol of Chinese New Year. Every year before celebrating, revellers will purchase new sets of clothing to be worn. This is symbolic of one beginning the New Year as an entirely new person.
Also, you’ll notice that red is the colour of choice for clothing. This is because it was first believed that the ‘Nien’ which terrorized villagers was frightened by the colour red. Hence, the Chinese often favour red as the colour of choice for their clothing.
Besides being sweet, juicy treats, mandarin oranges play an important role during Chinese New Year. In Chinese, the mandarin orange is known as ‘kam’ or gold which is a symbol of prosperity and wealth. Thus, it is considered to be a good practice to gift friends, families, and visitors with mandarin oranges. The oranges are gifted in numbers of 3 or 5 which is considered to be an auspicious number.
Lastly, food and feasting are two very important symbols of the Chinese New Year. On the eve of Chinese New Year, relatives and family members will go to great pains to get together for a sumptuous dinner. This is known as the reunion dinner where family members far and wide travel great distances to come back together for a night of feasting and familial bonding.
The reunion dinner is one of the most important symbols of Chinese New Year and symbolizes family togetherness and the importance of filial piety.
Things to do During Lunar New Year in Singapore
Visiting Singapore during the Lunar New Year is truly a feast for the sense. From dragon dances to fireworks shows and a deluge of delicious food on offer, there’s something for just about everyone. Here are just some of the things you can do:
1. Visit the Singapore River Hong Bao Carnival
If street festivals and a vibrant, festive atmosphere are your things, the Singapore River Hong Bao Carnival is just the stop for you. Held at Marina Promenade, the Hong Bao Carnival is a non-stop party with thousands of other revellers celebrating the Lunar New Year.
Feast your eyes on the sights that are on display in Singapore. From floats of traditional heroes from Chinese folklore, mythical creatures, and even Chinese Gods, you can get lost in the sea of sights. If that’s not for you, bear witness to Chinese craftsmanship and artistry thanks to the troupe of craftsmen and artists specially flown in from China just for the occasion.
Be serenaded by street performers and admire the agility of the visiting Chinese Lion Dance Troupe. Feeling hungry? Why not stop by any number of stalls hawking Chinese delicacies and enjoy traditional Chinese cuisine.
If you’re looking to the future, palm readers will be able to tell you how your love and professional lives are going to play out. Maybe even get your horoscope read based on your birth sign by a Chinese Zodiac reader.
2. Take a walk down Chinatown
No visit to Singapore would be complete without a visit to Chinatown of course. Traditionally, Chinatown has been the heart of all Chinese New Year celebrations and you’d be amiss if you didn’t take a trip into Chinatown.
From eye-catching decorations with lanterns and lights galore to firecrackers being fired off, Chinatown has a particularly festive spirit with merchants and customers rushing around. Take in the festive spirit in Chinatown as you bargain with merchants and watch locals mill around in festive attire.
Alongside all of this, Chinatown also offers plenty of delicious Chinese cuisine and an assortment of gorgeous New Year cookies that have been enjoyed over the generations. Welcome the New Lunar Year with luck and prosperity when you buy pussy willow and baskets of mandarin oranges in Chinatown.
3. Follow a Lion Dance Troupe
Since olden times, the medium of dance has played a pivotal role in Chinese culture and Lion Dances are no different. Featuring costumed performers in elaborate Lion Dance outfits, these dances are ubiquitous with Chinese New Year Celebrations.
During Chinese New Year Celebrations, Lion Dance troupes are invited to business premises and homes where they perform their ritual dances. Here, they will perform a traditional ritual which is known as cai qing which literally translates to “plucking the greens”.
A Lion Dance troupe is typically made up of volunteers who have different roles to play during the performance. Oftentimes, the dance is performed by 2 members of the troop working in coordination with each other while being dress in their Lion Dance outfits. The other members of the troupe will play a variety of instruments like cymbals and drums which adds to the festive feel of a Lion Dance performance.
While performing the cai qing performance, Lion Dancers will pluck green lettuce from a pole or a table. This is intended to signify the welcoming of prosperity into the business premise or home in question. For added spectacle, some Lion Dance troupes also perform acts of daring do such as jumping from pole to pole and in some more extreme cases, jump through flaming hoops as they pluck the greens.
Throughout the cai qing performance, the Lion will mingle with members of the crowd and offer “red packets” or auspicious fruit such as oranges. It is believed that the Lion Dance frightens away evil spirits while at the same time, bringing prosperity and joy to the house.
4. Catch a fireworks show
It should come as no surprise that fireworks and fire crackers are a very important part of Chinese New Year. Besides offering spectators a truly awesome spectacle of colour, light, and sound, fireworks has an important role to play in Chinese culture.
Address: Open space in front of People’s Park Complex (1 Park Road, Singapore 059108)
Closest MRT: Chinatown MRT
Opening times: 11am–10.30pm during the Chinese New Year period
Entrance fee: Free
Website: Chinatown Festive Carnival
On the eve of Chinese New Year, take a stroll down the streets of Singapore and enjoy a wonderful night out with friends and family before heading to your hotel room or an elevated location to enjoy the fireworks show. Every year at the stroke of midnight on Chinese New Year’s Eve, Singaporeans are treated to a fireworks show.
Since 1987, River Hongbao has been the venue for fireworks shows and Chinese New Year Countdowns. For the 2019 Chinese New Year celebrations, the organizers have included an additional day of fireworks and laser shows beginning from the 15th of February to the 24th.
5. Have a reunion dinner with friends and family
The Lunar New Year celebrations are the Chinese equivalent of Christmas, Thanksgiving, and New Years all rolled into a massive festive celebration. As mentioned, family is an especially important aspect for Chinese New Year celebrants with relatives and siblings travelling great distances to return for the reunion dinner.
This Chinese New Year, why not host a reunion for friends and family at a restaurant and enjoy the sumptuous delights that are only available during Chinese New Year. The reunion dinner is something family members all look forward to every year with relatives reconnecting and strengthening family bonds.
After all, the Lunar New Year celebrations are an awesome way of bringing the family together to sit down and enjoy each other’s company while enjoying Chinese delicacies.
Things to eat during Chinese New Year
It comes as no surprise that food and Chinese New Year go hand in hand. Chinese New Year is a time where you will begin to notice many culinary delights appearing on restaurant menus and in the homes of celebrants.
1. Yee Sang
Introduced by first generation businessmen in Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia, Yee Sang is a localized dish which is traditionally eaten by family members during reunion dinner. Yee Sang which is known as Prosperity Toss is a symbol of prosperity, joy, happiness, and health which is tossed using chopsticks.
A fish-type salad which consists of raw Salmon, shredded vegetables and fruits and other nuts and sauces, this dish is sweet, sour, and salty which is only seen during Chinese New Year. The ingredients are poured into the dish while phrases such as “Good Health”, “Happiness”, “Overwhelming Prosperity”, and “Good Luck” are chanted.
Following this, family members will toss this delicious mixture with their chopsticks while wishing each other a prosperous year. Participants are invited to toss the Yee Sang in such a way that the condiments literally “pour over” which guarantees a good year ahead. Yee Sang can be found in various Chinese restaurants and supermarkets during the festive season.
2. Broccoli with Abalone Slices & Scallops
A dish which does not usually appear on menus, Stir-fried broccoli is cooked together with Abalone Slices and Scallops to make a delectable dish. Abalone and scallops are a sought-after dish for Chinese New Year as it signifies good fortune and prosperity. The liquid from the Abalone and scallops are used to flavour the dish which further enhances its flavour.
3. Tau Yu Bak
A Teochew classic popular with many revelers, Tau Yu Bak or braised pork belly is fatty pork belly lovingly stewed in a stock of five spice, lemongrass, and ground ginger with black sauce. This makes for an especially rich dish with delicious flavours that anyone would find impossible to resist.
Stewed to perfection, the pork belly is irresistibly tender and breaks apart with just a poke of the fork. Coupled with rich pork fat and the exotic flavours of five spice and lemongrass, Tau Yu Bak embodies the flavours of Chinese New Year.
This dish can be eaten with a bowl of steamed white rice or eaten together with steamed mantou which is essentially Chinese bread. The dense yet fluffy pastry soaks up the delicious sauce perfectly and is a perfect complement to the rich meat.
Chinese New Year is one of the most beloved celebrations in Singapore. It is also celebrated by both young and old and offers plenty of activities for everyone. Soak up the festive atmosphere and partake in some of these bustling activities for a memorable Lunar New Year in Singapore!