Consider this a checklist of what you need to do when celebrating CNY in Singapore.
Visiting the Chinese New Year Market in Chinatown
Whether you are looking to catch a good deal for “Nian Huo” or New Year goodies, or simply want to get into a festive CNY mood, the Chinese New Year market in Chinatown is the place to go. Every year, close to the CNY period, stallholders will start to display a fanfare of all Chinese New Year goodies. Some sell Bak Kwa or traditional BBQ Meat by the kilos, some sell cheap CNY decorations at close to wholesale prices, and others sell boxes of delicious pineapple tarts, almond biscuits, egg rolls, and roasted peanuts with some being homemade, too!
If you want to grab insanely cheap stuff and you don’t mind the crowd and the late hours, you can join the many people who jostle and haggle at the Chinese New Year market on the eve of CNY. Many people even go after midnight when the stallholders will be giving great discounts for their wares before they pack up the temporary stalls for the year. However, be careful of pickpockets while you are among the crowd!
Buying New Clothes and Shoes
The Chinese believes that it is good luck to wear new pajamas on the eve of Chinese New Year, and new clothes and shoes and on the first day of Chinese New Year. This is important for the fashionistas! Who wants to go Bai Nian looking shabby or wearing last year’s fashion? Many boutiques start to display their new collections of bright coloured dresses, new-age cheongsams, and latest designs to cater to customers’ discerning tastes. Many department stores also brandish cute children’s cheongsams, which I quickly grabbed for my children.
Stocking Up on New Year Goodies
This is my favourite part of CNY. Who can resist good food? You can tell CNY is coming when the stalls you pass by start to display a scarlet and golden array of glistening CNY decorations and mouth-watering goodies. This is the time to stock up on those lovely goodies before the good ones are sold out.
When friends and relatives visit during Chinese New Year, these goodies can be served and enjoyed by all as we chat and reminisce the good old times. In the past, many families make their own traditional goodies like pineapple tarts and egg rolls.
Spring Cleaning and Decorations
Spring cleaning before the Lunar New Year is not just for the practical reasons of ridding our homes of old furniture and trash. For the Chinese, this also signifies clearing the home of bad luck. The Chinese believes that only by getting rid of the old and the bad can one invite in the new and good fortune. This usually takes place a few days before the first day of Chinese New Year.
Hanging up the decorations will be the next step after spring cleaning. Red paper cuttings with lucky animals, and with auspicious words and poems are pasted around the walls of the house. Red and golden lanterns are also displayed in the house, and sometimes hung in pairs outside the main door to bring in good luck.
Having Reunion Dinner
Reunion dinner is not just about the food. Although good food is essential, it’s also about gathering and catching up with family members, relatives, and friends, many of whom we only get to meet once a year. Reunion dinner is so important that some people will fly back to have it with their family even if they live miles away.
Traditionally, people have reunion dinners on the eve of Chinese New Year but nowadays, many people also have it a few days or weeks before CNY. Some people book restaurants or have buffets catered, but some prefer the cosiness of holding the dinners in their own homes with home-cooked food. Lou Hei or Lao Yu Sheng is an important starter to reunion dinners in Singapore. Diners say auspicious quotes while they mix the ingredients on the plate of Lou Hei with their chopsticks.
On the eve of Chinese New Year, the Chinese believe that if the children stay awake for the night, their parents will receive blessings of good health and longevity. As a child, I used to enjoy this part of CNY because it is the only time of the year we can play and watch movies way past bedtime without being nagged at to go to bed! But of course, most people do not stay awake all night. Some will only stay up until midnight or until early morning.
Parents can also reward their children for staying up late with ang baos!
Bai Nian also means to go around visiting relatives and friends’ homes to wish them a good year ahead. People will bai nian with either two or four mandarin oranges which they present to the host of the homes they visit. The host will give them another set of oranges as a way of returning the blessings. These oranges signify luck and prosperity. Many people will stock up on them a few days before CNY and display them in baskets in their homes. The first 15 days of Chinese New Year is the most important period for bai nian.
Giving Ang Bao or Red Packets
These ang baos or red packets contain money and are usually given to babies and children of relatives and friends. Grown up children also give ang baos to their elderly parents and grandparents as blessings. If you see long queues at the banks before the CNY period, that is because people are exchanging new dollar notes to be placed in their red packets. Some people believe that new notes signify new good fortune. However, it is not necessary for ang bao money to be all new notes.
Enjoying Fireworks and Lion Dance Performance
On the eve of Chinese New Year, fireworks and firecrackers will be lighted up, giving a thunderous welcome to the new Lunar Year. In Singapore, only approved authorities can light up these fireworks. Chinese New Year countdown parties will usually display these fireworks as well as invite lion dance troupes to perform. Throughout the 15 days of CNY, these lion dance troupes may also go to your neighbourhood or be invited to shopping malls, stirring up a cacophony of music with their drums and trumpets, and perform unusually skillful acrobatic stunts and movements. Some places even hold annual lion dance competition that the public that enjoy.
Are you all prepared for the Chinese New Year? Gong Xi Fa Cai!
Cover photo courtesy of IQ Remix