Thursday, February 11, 2010

Chinese New Year: Year of the Tiger

While the Americans are swooning over Valentine's Day and buying chocolates for their sweethearts this weekend, the Singaporeans over here are getting pumped up for Chinese New Year.

I mentioned some information about this Chinese celebration last year, but since I have more Chinese friends now, I thought I'd share some interesting customs and traditions of CNY.

Chinese New Year is a very colorful and important holiday to Singaporeans, especially those of Chinese decent. This 15 day celebration gets them two full days off from work and begins at midnight on Sunday this year. (12AM 14th February to be exact) To mark the importance of this holiday in their culture, think of it as the equivalent to Thanksgiving for Americans, minus the obsession with turkey.

They do have certain foods and traditions that are always followed for this celebration every year. As I mentioned last year, traditional foods and customs of CNY usually rhyme with words that you'd like to associate with your life in the new year. Words such as prosperity, luck, abundance, fortune, wealth are all things that are associated with traditions for CNY.

To better illustrate the traditions, I called my friend Cat to ask her what some of her family traditions are for this celebration. Here's what she told me:

  • We cannot sweep our floor on the first day of Chinese New Year. By doing this, it will sweep away our luck for the new year.
  • My mother will not let us wash our hair on the first day of CNY. The Mandarin word for hair rhymes with prosperity, so therefore we believe that washing our hair on that day will wash away our luck.
  • The same goes for getting hair cuts. We must do this before or after the first few days of CNY.
  • At the stroke of midnight on the first day of CNY, we open all doors and windows in our home to "let in the God of Fortune". Some people will even visit an astrologer to more accurately determine the exact time that the God will come. My family sticks to the midnight time.
  • You will also see a lot of people with joss sticks standing outside of the temples right before the first hour of the new year. They believe that the first person to place a joss stick at the altar at the first hour will have good luck for the rest of the year. (A joss stick is similar to or the same as a stick of incense.)
  • People are not encouraged to wear black or white during CNY as these are not auspicious colors. Most people will wear bright reds and oranges.
  • We eat a lot of traditional food that is based on their Mandarin pronunciation. We eat shrimp because the Mandarin word for shrimp is "ha" which sounds like laughter. We eat fish because the Mandarin word sounds like abundance. We also give Mandarin oranges because the word sounds like gold, thus meaning we wish wealth to their family.
  • The first two days of the CNY celebration are usually spent visiting friends and family and having big meals together. You will also see a lot of people at movie theatres too. People are laying low, but doing things together.

These are just some of the things that my friend and her family either witness or participate in while living in Singapore.

If you are Singaporean and have other traditions, please feel free share in the comment section. I'd love to learn about them and so would some of the other American readers.


cs said...

reunion dinner on chinese new year eve is a pretty big deal.

ppl travel all the way back to their parents homes. the north south highway in msia is going to be packed.

its pretty fun to meet ur entire extended family, all your cousins and stuff. plus getting the angbaos and lighting firecrackers (but they don't do that in sg coz it's illegal. not to say that it isn't illegal in msia as well but enforcement is obviously lax)

Mae Mastura said...

oh here's another: children are encouraged to stay up as late as possible on the eve of CNY because the longer they stay up, the longer their parents will live.

therefore to curb the boredom and sleepiness, those of age starts to gamble. and thereafter, gambling (mahjong / poker esp.) with friends & family is also one of the traditions of CNY. lol.

Joleene said...

A friend of mine always passes out a penny to the youngest and oldest person in the is for good luck.

and she brings very yummy food too!

Holly said...

Enjoyed wandering through your blog ...I spent a wonderful (and full) week in Singapore several years ago while on WestPac...DH and I plan to come through Singapore when we do our around-the-world trip in 5-8-10 years.

Anonymous said...

There's also a tradition whereby parents put an angpow under the pillow after the children fell asleep on the eve of CNY. This symbolizes blessing throughout their growing stage.

- Jen

Megan said...

Holly, hello and thanks for reading! You'll be surprised just how much Singapore has changed by the time you get over here. It's crazy different than when I first arrived. Happy CNY!