Updated: Jan 24
Chinese New Year is fast approaching, and it is time once again to bring out the red decorations and lanterns for a grand Chinese New Year celebration.
Chinese New Year is one of the most significant holiday seasons in Singapore and there are a lot of things to know about the festive season, especially the traditions or activities that are being passed down from generation to generation. So here’s a rundown of a comprehensive guide to help you usher in the Year of the Tiger.
Before we go to different traditions and activities observed during this season, what is Chinese New Year?
Chinese New Year is observed by Chinese communities scattered all over the world and has a history going back thousands of years. This has become an integral part of their lives because of its cultural and historical significance. It is believed that Emperor Huang Ti introduced the holiday in 2637 B.C., but no one knows for sure when it began.
Legend says that the Chinese New Year starts from an ancient battle against the Nian, a terrifying beast that attacked people and ate children. The people used fireworks and firecrackers to chase the beast away. This tradition has been continued until the present time and the festival serves as a time to gain good fortune. It has become an integral part of Chinese culture and the dates of all subsequent annual feasts are based upon it.
Chinese New Year’s importance is rooted deep in history, and until today it remains the most important occasion for generations of Chinese families to reunite and spend time together. Grand fireworks, parades, and traditional Chinese cultural performances and traditional activities take place and are observed around the world to celebrate the holiday, and Singapore is known to celebrate it massively.
Customs and Traditions during Chinese New Year
Red is undoubtedly the color of the season. You can see all over Singapore from the decorations or lanterns everywhere to the design or packets used for food and clothing during this entire season. It is considered a good luck color as many believed that Red is to scare away spirits of bad fortune.
1. Spring cleaning : Out with the Old, in with the New.
(New stuff, new clothes, new hair and nails… even eyelashes)
It is believed that New Year traditions are based around the spiritual idea of renewal and one of the most famous traditional activities is cleaning the house. Bamboo leaves are traditionally used to sweep the floor as it is believed that this would drive evil spirits out. So family members help each other out to clear out some old items, sweep and mop floors, and dust surfaces. However, there should be no cleaning done on the first day of the New Year to prevent sweeping out any good fortune.
Aside from cleaning, people also dispose of their old stuff. This tradition has rather a deeper meaning as it represents the purging of all the bad luck collected over the year and starting a brand new one.
It is very common for the Chinese to wear new clothes, get new hairdos, and have people nails done. Thus, not only shopping malls along Orchard Rd are proven to have more foot traffic but many local hair and nail salons usually are also fully packed during this festive season. Many people don’t bother to queue up just to get slot reservations to have good hair and pretty nails before Chinese New Year’s eve.
> Getting a Fresh New Set of Dresses/Clothes
Shopping for new clothes for Chinese New Year. It's a reasonable time to eliminate the unnecessary and the old from the closet. Getting and wearing new clothes also symoolizes having more than enough things to use and wear in the new year.
It is believed that wearing new clothes on the first day of Chinese New Year symoolizes a fresh start. And some believed that this is to attract luxury that will manifest for the entire year. Chinese like to do a wardrobe update with some stylish new fashion trends.
> Getting fresh Haircuts
Chinese tend to get a new and fresh haircut before the last day of the Lunar year so that they will not look untidy, and also because a clean, well-maintained appearance matters to usher in a prosperous new year.
> Getting your nails done.... and maybe even eyelash extensions?
New clothes and hair, but it's definitely incomplete without getting your nails groomed and your lashes done. People are getting their nails groomed before CNY to complete the total good look package to attract abundance and good luck. And where better to do this than to go to a one-stop-shop that does all these at the same time.
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2. Reunion and Feasting with Family
The heart of Chinese New Year is ultimately a celebration of home and family, gathering and eating together with loved ones. The family reunion dinner is one of the most important highlights of the celebrations on the eve of the new year. Family members find time to get together to share this one most important meal of the year. But with the restrictions currently, some may find celebrating especially with big families to be quite challenging. Singapore’s rule for gathering is only a maximum of 5 people. But what are the alternatives?
> Celebrating CNY night through Virtual Dinner
Because of the restrictions currently implemented in Singapore, many are improvising a family dinner by doing a Virtual Dinner where everyone can see each other online and eat at the same time. In this sense, they still can get to see and talk to their relatives and loved ones and celebrate together.
Some may also opt to deliver foods from just one restaurant and schedule the delivery at one time so everyone can still get to eat at the same time, especially families that are physically apart during new year's eve.
3. Ang Pows or Red Packets
Of all the customs you'll see happening around this time of the year, one of the oldest is the giving and receiving of red packets. Red packets or Ang Pows are traditionally given by elders and married couples to send blessings and luck to children and unmarried members of the family.
>Electronic-hangbao is in.
Since visiting personally is only limited this year, many are improvising by doing online Ang pows. Here's a little guide on how to send or receive e-hongbao. https://www.straitstimes.com/tech/hongbao-go-digital-for-chinese-new-year-2021
A worry-less and fun way to keep doing the customs and traditions.
4. Ancestor Worship and Visiting Temples
It's also a common tradition for the Chinese to worship their ancestors. Before the reunion dinner, it is customary for families to worship their ancestors and invite them to join in the family’s celebrations with an offering of food, fruits, tea, and flowers.
5. Eating CNY Goodies/ Snacks
Like many people say, What is Chinese New Year without yummy goodies and snacks? Chinese New Year will never be complete without weeks of stuffing yourself with irresistible goodies! Popular goodies for the festive occasion include pineapple tarts, bak kwa, cookies, and brownies.
While we're accustomed to Chinese New Year and open houses for the entire family group, the current measures in Singapore state that each household can only receive a certain number of visitors per day, and can only go out with a group of five. Hence, the shift in the way gatherings will be held adapting to the new normal. While gatherings with friends and family may still not be entirely the same as how it’s done pre-pandemic, it's still a great occasion to reconnect and find time to do the customs and celebrate during this period.