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Chinese New Year is one of the most significant holiday seasons in
Singapore. 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 is 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:
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