Ray and I took a guided tour of Chinatown the week before Chinese New Year (CNY) to gather some more facts and legends related to CNY in Singapore. As with any media and market-driven holiday many of the “must have” items are not part of the traditional celebration. As newcomers in Singapore we have been asking everyone what we need to know.
Many of the traditional foods and decorations are chosen for their names and what they sound like. Many Chinese traditions have evolved because the word for something sounds similar to powerful or fortunate words.
The key CNY words, found on advertising signs and on various packaging, are:
Much of the celebration, which lasts 2 weeks, involves food, family visits, “red” envelopes and other gifts. When you visit someone, 2 Mandarin Oranges are presented to the host family when you arrive; when you leave, a different pair of Mandarin Oranges is given to the visitors. If you give oranges that are not Mandarin, it is considered an insult (never give Sunkist oranges, for example).
Another ubiquitous tradition are the red envelopes with an even amount of money in them. Never give a gift of money that is an odd amount! These envelopes are primarily given to children, old people and service people (maids, gardeners, security and others).
You will note throughout CNY, the main color is RED. Red is considered an auspicious color. There are also lots of yellows and oranges, all of which are considered good.
One of the Singaporean traditions for CNY family dinners is Lo Hei, or Yu Sheng. It is a salad of many ingredients, each one symbolizes something important for the New Year. The salad ingredients are separated on the plate and more things are added on top of each pile of ingredients, including dressings and sauces. When everything has been added, all family members – especially the children – mix the salad with chop sticks by tossing the ingredients into the air.
Another tradition is the dragon dances. A local merchant in Tiong Bahru hosts a dragon dance each year which went on for at least an hour with drummers and confetti crackers and lots of very energetic dragon dancers.
Our condo complex is hosting a CNY party 1 March so I’m sure we will have more dragon dance photos to share.