Travel Guide

Lunar New Year

Get into the festive mood with the flurry of activity around the Lunar New Year period when you visit Singapore. Sample local and festive delights, learn about our customs and most importantly, join in the festivities. The Lunar New Year is the celebration of the new year according to the Chinese calendar. To the Chinese living here, this is the biggest annual event in which families would gather for reunion dinners, making it the most important event in the social calendar.

This year, Lunar New Year falls on Sunday, 10 February. The festival lasts for as long as fifteen days, till 25 February 2013. Before the festivities start, there is usually a flurry of activity in each household as each family cleans up the house and prepares to welcome in the new year, with new clothes and shoes and festive treats to make the celebration complete. This act of cleaning (Mandarin: 'dà sǎo chú' 大掃除) also signifies sweeping away the bad luck of the preceding year to make way for good luck to arrive in the year ahead.

On the eve of the Lunar New Year, all the members of the family will return home to have their annual Reunion Dinner (Mandarin: 'tuán yuán fàn' (团圆饭), traditionally a large meal painstakingly put together with a large variety of food. The Singaporean/Malaysian version of this typically includes steamboat, where ingredients are put into a pot of boiling water and cooked at the table. Other food dishes include pigs, ducks, chicken and sweet delicacies. A kind of raw fish salad (Mandarin: 'yú shēng' (鱼生) said to bring good luck is also eaten.

The raw fish salad usually comes with all of its ingredients set aside in clusters. After a senior member of the family conducts the pouring of various condiments, and various phrases wishing prosperity and good health have been uttered, the family will usually pass around the chopsticks and have a go at tossing the salad as high as possible. It is believed that the higher the salad is raised, the more blessings will be bestowed on the family. Usually this salad will be eaten a couple more times during the fifteen days of the new year as the individual celebrates this holiday with other relatives, friends and colleagues.

After the Reunion Dinner, some will go to the prayer room to pray for blessings during the New Year. Children are also encouraged to stay up as late as possible as this is believed to be directly correlated to their parents' longevity. Children will also receive angpows (Mandarin: 'hóngbāo' 红包), or red packets that are filled with money, from their parents on this day. Should you want to check out Chinatown in all its festively decorated glory, without the crowds, the best time to do this is between the hours of six to eight in the evening, where most families are off having dinner. After the dinner hours are up, most families will descend upon Chinatown to usher in the New Year.

In Singapore, the first two days of the Lunar New Year are usually public holidays. An extra day is given in lieu this year as the holiday falls on a Sunday. These first fifteen days of the new year are usually spent visiting relatives, friends and colleagues who open their houses for visiting. New clothes will be worn, mostly on the first  and second day. Mandarin oranges and angpows will change hands. These oranges are passed from the younger generation to their elders as a form of respect, and mandarin oranges are regarded as signs of abundance and good fortune.

During the New Year, homes would be decorated with red banners or fire-cracker-like objects and lanterns that usually have Chinese characters on them, usually meaning wealth and bliss. Firecrackers were usually used to celebrate this occasion as well, until it was outlawed in Singapore. Nowadays, children replace firecrackers with colourful sparklers.

Should your Chinese friends invite you to their homes, jump at the opportunity to see the traditional customs for yourself, and snack on the delicious tidbits that they have. Otherwise, for the first two days at least, head for the beach, and work on a golden tan or visit a park since most shops would be closed.


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