It’s that time of the year again where families gather, dragon dances fill the streets and everyone starts debating who has the best pineapple tarts. It’s Chinese New Year in Singapore! And if there’s one thing Singaporeans know how to do, it’s how to celebrate the new year in style.
Like most things in Singapore, Chinese New Year revolves around food and lots of it! The dishes vary from family to family, but typically, lo hei, soup, fish, and dumplings are served. Naturally, there is an abundance of special treats as well.
Lo hei or yusheng is a dish and tradition that is unique to Singapore that typically launches each family meal. Everyone gathers around the table to toss this raw fish salad and if we’re lucky someone will remember to shout the blessings associated with each ingredient. The higher you toss, the more prosperity you’ll enjoy in the new year. I just think it’s fun to make a bit of a mess!
Reuniting with family is a major theme of Chinese New Year celebrations in Singapore and beyond. On the eve of the new year, everyone gathers for a Reunion Dinner which feels like Thanksgiving in the United States. The Reunion Dinner is just the first of several family meet-ups. During the first two days of the celebration, everyone visits with family and close friends for a meal or snacks.
Guests present two oranges to their hosts as a symbol of prosperity upon arrival. Guests and hosts move on to exchanging new year greetings along with the mandatory ang pau, or red envelopes filled with money. Older generations present these to the younger, unmarried generation with crisp, new notes contained inside. Just remember, the bigger the ang pau, the more prosperous the new year is said to be!
As guests depart the host gives two oranges to take to the next house. My husband calls it, The Great Orange Exchange.
A Chinese New Year celebrations aren’t complete without dragon and lion dances and don’t forget about all the lantern displays. Don’t light any firecrackers in Singapore though, they’re outlawed!
Lion dances are my absolute favorite thing about Chinese New Year. These dances are loud, raucous, and meant to scare any bad luck or demons away from the year before. My heart skips a beat when I walk into a shopping mall only to be greeted by the deafening sound of drums and gongs. The noise is so intense in an enclosed space that it takes you over.
Houses, like shopping centers, get prepared for the new year. You’ll see everyone cleaning, sweeping, and dusting to ensure no bad luck remains from the year before. The garbage collectors are especially busy this time of year.
If you want a hair cut or a manicure before Chinese New Year, you’ll pay a premium and you’ll need to bring along a red envelope.
So there you have it, a quick guide to celebrating Chinese New Year in Singapore. Eat, drink, eat some more, be merry and have a happy and prosperous new year! Gong xi fa cai!