Chinese New YearChinese New Year

CHINESE NEW YEAR TRADITIONS IN SINGAPORE

Xin nian kuai le (Happy New Year)! You may have had your New Year’s Eve countdown complete with fireworks, but the fun’s only just begun for those celebrating Chinese New Year – also known as chun jie in Mandarin, or ‘spring festival’. The occasion marks the official start of the year on the traditional lunar calendar, meaning it falls on different dates each year – typically in early- to mid-February. 

In China, the roughly two-week holiday is observed as families make the annual pilgrimage to their hometowns for reunion meals and sometimes extravagant celebrations. But things work a little differently on this side of the world. We share some traditions observed in Singapore over Chinese New Year. 
red packets

Hong bao, or red packets

If you didn't already know, red packets are traditionally only handed out by married couples to their parents, in-laws, single relatives and kids. Each hong bao could contain from as little as $2 to $200, and should ideally comprise new banknotes. But what matters more is the act of handing out these red packets, which is regarded as a form of blessing. Even numbers are favoured over odd numbers, with the exception of the number four – the latter being the Chinese homonym for death – so avoid giving out hong bao containing amounts like $4 or $44.


Yusheng

The annual family reunion dinner (complete with yusheng)

Chinese New Year truly does bring the extended family together – in form of a reunion dinner that takes place on the eve of occasion. The annual meal typically kicks off with yusheng (or yee sang, or lohei), a riotous platter of raw fish, dyed radish, fried crackers, pomelo bits and shredded carrots that’s seasoned with a mix of sauces and condiments. The ingredients are then tossed in the air using chopsticks – the higher the better – as family members utter auspicious wishes for the year ahead. Yusheng is thought to be unique to Singapore and Malaysia; a tradition birthed of Cantonese immigrants who popularised raw fish salad in Singapore back in the 1940s.


lion dance

Lion dance and dragon dance performances

Quick-tempoed drums, the urgent clashing of cymbals – and, above the celebratory commotion, a prancing lion or dragon led through dance by a troupe of agile performers. The traditional dance isn’t just for looks, though: the lion is a symbol of wisdom, courage and power, while the dragon represents luck, strength and resilience. Lion dance performances are more commonly seen in Singapore, and thought to usher in good luck. Apart from homes and offices, you’ll spot these performances around Chinatown and in shopping malls over the Lunar New Year.  


Pussy willow

Freshly potted plants

Specifically, the pussy willow plant and tangerine tree, both of which are believed to bring wealth to homes. Pussy willows – whose fluffy buds mark the start of spring – require watering twice a week, and a change of water twice weekly if kept in a vase.

Looking for additional sprigs of colour? The Chinese believe lucky bamboo symbolises strength, while peonies are linked to bounty, honour, romance and beauty – particularly red peonies, which are often considered the unofficial national flower of China.


clothes

(The emperor’s) new clothes

Now, there’s an excuse to ring in Chinese New Year: only brand-new clothes and shoes should be worn on the first day of the celebration, and preferably in bright colours. Red is particularly auspicious; black and white are strict no-nos, given the colours’ associations with death and mourning. 

 
pineapple tarts

Lunar New Year goodies

Food unites all, no matter if you're celebrating Chinese New Year – and you’ll uncover plenty of indulgent options at large-scale fairs as pastry shops and bakeries hawk their wares. Some well-loved must-tries include buttery pineapple tarts, bak kwa (a dried, savoury barbequed meat not unlike jerky), kueh bangkit (melt-in-the-mouth coconut cookies), love letters (crispy egg rolls) and nian gao, a glutinous rice flour-based cake. 


spring-clean

A thorough spring-clean

The days leading to Chinese New Year are marked by a thorough scrub-down of the home: window panes are wiped, floors swept and mopped, concealed and untouched areas cleaned, and auspicious plants introduced. All this encourages the purging of bad luck that would’ve inevitably collected in the past year. On the first day of Lunar New Year, though, homes must not be cleaned, in order to prevent sweeping out any good luck. 

Ready for more? Check out this guide to Hindu temples in Singapore, or consider spending a day exploring the colourful streets of Chinatown – the latter's only a five-minute ride by train from Marina Bay Sands. And our Book Direct offer means you're always guaranteed the lowest prices.