Gong Xi Fa Cai! Or Happy New (lunar) Year. As no doubt all you Singapore folks know, it was Chinese New Year this weekend. Kinda hard to miss it right?! For everyone else, Chinese New Year is bigger than Christmas here – its HUGE – and a bit like Christmas, everywhere is covered in decorations and the build up starts weeks beforehand.
Chinese New Year is probably the most important of the traditional Chinese holidays, marking the end of winter, and the beginning of spring. There are lots of traditions surrounding Chinese New Year, and I’ve been finding out a bit about some of the ones that Singaporeans do to make this festival special.
For starters, everywhere you go (our condo included) is covered in gold and red decorations. This is because in Chinese culture red and gold are lucky and prosperous colours. Red symbolises happiness, good fortune and joy, essential to starting a new year. At new year, small red envelopes (ang pow) are handed out, with a small monetary gift inside. These are usually given by married people to unmarried people, and by adults to children. Traditionally, the amount of money contained in the envelope should be an even number, such as S$8 (8 is also a particularly lucky number in Chinese culture), although our taxi driver who told us all about it, reckoned he only put S$2 (about £1) in his!
Before the new year arrived, every house will have been cleaned from top to bottom. This symbolises sweeping away any bad luck or problems from the previous year, to start the year with a clean slate, and hopefully better fortune. There must be a suitable period of time to elapse before the house can be cleaned again after the new year, to avoid sweeping good luck out of the house.
Houses are then decorated with red and gold decorations, and with flowers. There are a variety of flowers that are popular at new year, all of which have different meanings. Plum blossoms are very popular, and symbolise being lucky.
Now, this is Singapore, so no good set of festivities would be complete without its own set of traditional dishes and snacks. One of the things you can’t get away from here, is the pineapple tarts. These are tiny little bite-sized chunks of pastry, topped with a pineapple jam, that are sold everywhere in supermarkets and shopping centres. There also seem to have been a huge amount of Singaporean (and expat) bloggers who have taken the time to make their own. Two of my favourites are here and here. Pineapples are lucky (as the sound of the word for pineapple in Chinese is close to ‘good luck coming your way’), so as a result, not only do you need to eat sweet things made of them, but you also need to hang paper versions in your house as well! Oranges are also given, and represent wealth and good fortune.
This year is the Year of the Dragon, so we have really been spoilt for choice with dragon decorations! I have particularly loved the ENORMOUS dragon that was at the junction of Cross Street and New Bridge Road. The dragon is supposed to be particularly auspicious, as it is the only mythical animal in the Chinese cosmic cycle. People born in the Year of the Dragon are said to be innovative, enterprising, flexible, self-assured, brave and passionate. Dragon people are flamboyant and don’t do things by halves.
I’m sure there are tons more traditions and symbols that I’ve missed out, but these are just some of the things I’ve noticed or learnt about during the build-up to Chinese New Year. We actually weren’t in Singapore for the day itself, instead using the four-day weekend to go to Vietnam, which I shall blog about soon (and all its various ways of celebrating the new year!). So for now, Gong Xi Fa Cai!