Chinese New Year in Singapore

I arrived in Singapore just a couple of days before the Chinese New Year (CNY). Singaporeans celebrate both Christmas & Christian New Year and CNY at the same time. Moreover, both are official public holidays. However, I have noticed a big difference in the way those holidays celebrated. After observing both, I think that CNY is the main holiday in Singapore.

Hoooooliday

One big surprise was the length of celebration. Officially, CNY celebrations are going on for 15 days and in mainland China, the whole period is a public holiday. Singaporeans only get two public holidays, but most people continue celebrating in the evenings and over weekends.

It reminded me a bit of Russia where after New Year we had ten days public holidays. You can imagine what happens in Russia after so many days of drinking.

Singaporeans doesn’t seem to drink that much. There were a couple of drunks here and there but not as much as I would expect.

Cleaning

A ritual performed just before CNY is full cleaning of the whole house in preparation for relatives visit. I got a chance to participate in one such event ;) Though I have been told it’s considered inappropriate to ask friends for help with cleaning. Be prepared to spend days scrubbing, washing, polishing every part of your house to make it look good.

It is an interesting way to replace spring cleaning. Relatives/friends will tell you if something is not clean so you can’t slack much.

Steamboat

Classic CNY celebration meal is a steamboat. A gigantic pot of stock to which guests drop raw food. After simmering for 5/10 minutes, the food is ready to be consumed. In some countries also known as Hot Pot.

I have never tried steamboat before, and it was delicious. One difficulty though is being able to fish food with chopsticks. Gladly, my friends took pity on me and gave me soup spoon to stop my embarrassment.

Before enjoying a steamboat, I was honoured to be a part of traditional lo hei ceremony. Lo hei is essentially a salad where each ingredient has particular spiritual meaning. The best part of salad preparation is mixing it.

The higher you raise your mix, the better the next year is going to be. Expect a lot of mess on a table after mixing is done. The resulting mix is an interesting combination of different spices, sweet sauces, raw fish, and vegetables.

On average locals go to at least three steamboats during celebration period depending on how big is their family. It’s custom to visit your relatives home and have steamboat there after CNY Eve. So be prepared to eat A LOT.

Festivities

On the CNY Eve Singapore dresses up in beautiful decorations in the theme of the coming year of monkey.

Each decoration shows a different part of Journey to the West — classic Chinese novel about Monkey King. Each year has a different symbol here, and I have found my symbol of Tiger after some searching.

Mostly for tourists Singapore city does some fireworks.

After seeing Sydney New Years Eve fireworks, it just looks silly.

Traditional gifts

There are two different gift traditions I have observed during the CNY.

When friend/relative invites you to his home for a steamboat, it’s a custom to bring two oranges with you. The host of the house will give you two oranges after receiving yours. At the end of the CNY, every home you go to has a small mountain of oranges in the corner. As an ignorant foreigner(aka “Ang Moh”) I got invited to one of my friends house for dinner and consumed half of the oranges without bringing any :\ Strangely, most people don’t eat those oranges, which gave me an excuse to reduce food wastage.

An unexpected gift I have received was from my friends family. Married friends and family members will give a gift of money in a red envelope to their single friends.

Not sure, why single people need more money but it was a nice surprise, 谢谢!

I hope you had a great CNY!

Gong Xi Fa Cai

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