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.