Gong Xi Fa Cai, folks!
I am wrapping up a 4.5 day weekend to be precise and I can’t feel more rejuvenated. I love how there is a good holiday to look forward to bang in the beginning of the year, in Singapore. Now, who doesn’t like holidays? None? I thought as much.
I have been wanting to share some of the resplendent sights that mark the lunar new year. Chinese New Year is celebrated on a mega scale in countries inhabited by a large Chinese population and in Chinatowns of other countries. Singapore naturally has big celebrations starting right from the first week of January and stretching all the way until a week after the Chinese New Year. The entire country is painted red and gold making it hard to not feel the spirit. The festivities in Chinatown are something one must not miss if you were to be here during this time of the year.
S, my friend and I set off to catch some action in Chinatown on the eve of Chinese New Year. We expected a crazy crowd but it wasn’t too bad, actually.
Chinese New Year celebrations begin from Chinese New Year’s Eve which happened to be Jan 30th this year. It goes on till the the 15th day of the first month. So you can imagine how long the festivities can be!
The decorations are usually in red. “According to tales and legends, the beginning of Chinese New Year started with the fight against a mythical beast called the Nian or “Year” in Chinese. Nian would come on the first day of New Year to devour livestock, crops, and even villagers, especially children. To protect themselves, the villagers would put food in front of their doors at the beginning of every year and believed that after the Nian ate the food they prepared, it wouldn’t attack any more people. Once, people saw the Nian was scared away by a little child wearing red, they then understood that the Nian was afraid of the color red. Hence, every time when New Year was about to come, the villagers would hang red lanterns and spring scroll on windows and doors. People also used firecrackers to frighten the Nian and from then on, the Nian never came to the village again and was eventually converted by Hongjunlaozu, a Taoist in the old time, and became his mount.” (Picked from here)
You can see red envelopes above, also called ang pau. The Chinese place money in these envelopes and exchange it with their family and friends. Ang pau is also given during weddings and other occasions. The red colour of the envelope symbolises good luck and is believed to ward off evil spirits.
The whole of Chinatown turns into a night market of sorts and people throng the shops to buy the various symbols that mark CNY. It is amazing how there are rows and rows of shops selling just those red coloured envelopes and shops selling various wall hangings with good luck messages. The word for fish, “Yu,” sounds like the words both for wish and abundance. It is customary to serve a fish at the end of the evening meal, symbolizing a wish for abundance in the coming year. In the above pictures, you can see the fish hanging that symbolizes abundance.
This year, being the year of the Horse, the streets were lined by horse-lights. The streets looked like they were being driven by horses and no photo can do justice to how lovely the streets looked.
What I love about Singapore is how everyone celebrates everything. The Mariamman temple in Chinatown had a banner to wish everyone a happy Lunar Year.
Amidst all this, we also managed to do some shopping.
The Chinese meet family members and have family lunches/dinners and get-togethers during this period. They call this open-house, a time when friends and family walk in and spend time with loved ones. We were invited to the home of one of our close Chinese friends. And since, CNY is also the time to devour the most delicious of pineapple tarts and other yummy goodies, K and I snuck our faces into the goodies.
So, we had the kueh bangit that melts in your mouth, peanut filled puffs, chocolate sesame cookies (yumm!), pineapple balls ( I can live on them) and pineapple cheese balls (What is not to love?). People also exchange oranges that symbolize luck and wealth. It could be because the word for orange sounds like the word that means wealth. Another fruit that symbolizes abundance and wealth is the pomelo. Right from noodles representing long life to an entire chicken being served to symbolize family unity, it is very intriguing to understand the significance of various food items according to the Chinese.
Moving into Singapore has been a culturally stimulating experience for K and me. Chinese traditions, like Indian, are vast. Every festival and celebration has brought us closer and helped us appreciate them better. From the curious onlookers, we have now become part of the celebration, attending open-houses, gorging on the food and festivities and writing about it 🙂