Chinese New Year is one of the most significant holiday seasons in Singapore.
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Marking the first day of the year on the Chinese lunar calendar, the date fluctuates from year to year. The celebrations can last for two to three days, and they are colourful and abundant.
Chinese New Year is observed by Chinese communities scattered all over the world and has a history going back thousands of years. Legend has it that Emperor Huang Ti introduced the holiday in 2637 B.C., but no one knows for sure when it began. What they do know is that Chinese New Year is an integral part of Chinese culture and that the dates of all subsequent annual feasts are based upon it.
Symbols of Chinese New Year include plum blossoms, which stand for courage and hope, and the water narcissus, which is thought to be a “flower of good fortune.“ “Good Luck,“ written in Chinese characters on red, diamond-shaped paper, and “lucky oranges“ are also often seen around the house this time of year. Clearly, the most notable symbols of Chinese New Year, however, are the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac. Anyone born during the year of a particular animal is believed to be born with certain personality traits of that animal.
Another common tradition is to give gifts of money to children in small, red envelopes. The colour red is thought to bring good luck and happiness for the year ahead, and a little cash doesn’t hurt either.
As Chinese New Year approaches, people are busy shopping for New Year’s gifts, as well as cleaning and decorating their homes. Sweeping the dirt out of one’s home is also thought to be a lucky activity, but all brooms must disappear on New Year’s Day, for it is feared that sweeping at that time will “sweep away the newly arrived good fortune.“ In a similar vein, haircuts are forbidden on New Year’s Day because the Chinese word for “hair“ sounds like the Chinese word for “luck”, proving that your luck will be lost with your hair, unless you cut it before year’s end.
Other traditions of Chinese New Year include: painting homes – or at least doors and windows – red, hanging up paper cut-outs with famous Chinese wisdom sayings on them, buying new clothing (especially red clothing), and paying off all debts before the new year arrives, including “debts of gratitude,” and visiting the oldest members of one’s extended family to honour them.
The family dinner is the central event of Chinese New Year, and it is referred to as “family reunion”. In Singapore, many families have what they term a “steamboat” or “hot pot” dinner, this being a thousand-year-old tradition for the holiday. A hot soup or broth that is simmering is placed in the middle of the table, and other foods, such as thin-sliced meats, dumplings, raw fish, and vegetables, are thrown into the pot to cook them before everyone’s eyes. This kind of meal is very popular anyway, but especially on Chinese New Year’s Day.
Some activities you may see in public in Singapore this time of year include: lions dances, dragon dances, parades with traditional musical instruments, lantern festivals at local temples, fireworks displays and people making as much noise as possible by striking bamboo sticks together or setting off small firecrackers.
Besides the events and activities already mentioned that take place on Chinese New Year’s Day proper, there are other events associated with Chinese New Year that occur a little bit later. These are also great for tourists to attend, should they still be in Singapore at that point. Three such events are:
- The “main public event” of the Chinese New Year season in Singapore is indisputably the Chingay Parade, which actually occurs eight days after the holiday itself. It is a street parade with a carnival-like atmosphere and a long stream of impressive floats. Traditional floats focus on things like the signs of the zodiac and the Chinese god of good fortune, but these days, you will see floats of every variety. You can expect to see magician shows, cultural dancers, fire eaters, and a host of other “entertaining characters” as well.
- Though 15 days after New Year’s Day, the River Hongbao celebration is considered among locals to one of the main Chinese New Year’s celebrations. It takes place on the Marina Bay Floating Platform and along the Esplanade Waterfront Promenade. You will find a great variety of cultural and entertaining events there for the whole family.
- On the 5th day of the new year, a ten-day-long event, the Chinese Festival of Arts, commences. It is also on the Esplanade Waterfront Promenade and blends into the celebration mentioned above. This is the beginning, and the above the culmination, of an ongoing set of events. On the 5th day of the first month, you will find a massive display of visual and performing arts taking place on the promenade, and you will have 10 full days to enjoy it.
Chinese New Year will not go unnoticed by those visiting Singapore when it arrives, for it will be celebrated publicly in obvious ways, but to get the most out of the celebrations, it will pay to plan ahead and know where the events that most interest you are being held.