Singapore is a very multi-cultural society, that is represented by its diverse range of celebrated public holidays. These include, “Chinese New Year”, the Buddhist “Vesak Day”, The Muslim “Hari Raya Puasa” and Hindu “Deepavali”. (Damien 2012)
Perhaps what is one of the most iconic of these public holidays is the Chinese New Year (CNY). It is a very important celebration to all Chinese culture including the people in Singapore, as it places an emphasis on the celebration of home and family. Chinese customs for New Year’s echo sentiments of ‘out with the old and in with the new’, preaching a brand new start to the year. Traditions associated with this mentality include a spring cleaning at home before the New Year starts to remove all the bad luck. Moreover, new clothing is worn on New Year’s Day as a further symbol of new beginnings.
Chinatown CNY celebrations in Singapore in particular is a go-to place, for its aesthetic. The streets are lit up with red lanterns and banners, and provides a display of food vendors, which attract large crowds every year. Traditionally, there will be a figuring of Lion dancing along the streets making loud noises, with the symbolic purpose of keeping evil mythical creatures at bay. There are also live performances, dances, songs, acrobatic performances and many more.
Further Chinatown events and activities include:
1. Official Light-up and Opening ceremony
2. Festive Street Bazaar and Festive Carnival
3. Nightly Stage Shows
4. Chinatown Wishing tree
5. Mass Reunion Dinner & many more (Chinatown Chinese New Year Celebrations 2015 2016)
However, there are other celebrations held at the same time as Chinese New Year such as the Chingay Parade, River Hong Bao, and the Huayi – Chinese Festival of Arts. The Chingay parade was once about the giant floats such as the Chinese Zodiac animals, lion dancers and the Chinese God of Fortune, however now they have diversified, having added performing acts like acrobatics and magicians to the parade, to account for the multicultural nature of Singaporean society. (Celebrating Chinese New Year in Singapore 2017) The Chinese Festival of Arts – Huayi occurs for 10 days, and is primarily suited towards people that appreciate the traditional and contemporary Chinese arts and culture.
Chinese New Year is also widely recognized for its association with the colour Red. The colour, in conjunction with the holiday, resembles joy, virtue, truth, sincerity, and good luck. However, its association also traces back to an ancient myth about a mythical beast called ‘Nien’. The villagers were scared of it due to its destruction and killings until they later realized that the Nien feared the colour red. Due to this, the Chinese wore red to scare away the Nien, evil spirits and bad luck. They also would hang red lanterns and red spring couplets on their windows and doors, and use red firecrackers to scare away the Nien. Today, people no longer believe that the Nien still exists.
Nowadays, people decorate with red couplets with phrases to signify wealth, happiness and longevity. Red lanterns are hung at storefronts and homes to symbolize success, and flowers are placed around the house as a sign of luck and joy.
During Chinese New Year, the Chinese know best about superstitions and they take this really seriously. These are just some of the superstitions:
1. Watch what you say – Don’t use any bad words. The elders also warn children that if they misbehave or argue and be beaten by their elders that they might end up more rebellious throughout the year.
2. No sweeping – The Chinese don’t sweep on Chinese New Year’s because they believe that they would be sweeping good luck out of the house. Therefore they sweep the house before Chinese New Year’s.
3. Avoid black – Wearing black is related with death, therefore it is always best to wear red for good fortunes. (Chinese New Year Celebrations in Singapore 2016)
The long-standing religious rituals that are still practiced to this day include those where Chinese people head to the temples to pray to the Gods and offer them flowers, fruits, and food. There is also ancestral worship, where families pray and pay respect to their ancestors by offering them food, fruits, and flowers at a small shrine in their homes or at the temples. This is not just about respect or remembering them but about welcoming your ancestors to join you, your family and relatives for a large family dinner reunion. After New Year’s Eve, Chinese traditions involve reigning in the New Year by spending the following days visiting and spending time with relatives and friends, and expressing good fortunes to everyone for the year ahead. (Chinese New Year 2017)
During these house visits, it is common for people to bring mandarin oranges and give them to their older relatives or any relatives and friends as a symbol of good fortune. Furthermore, married couples with often give red pockets (Hong Bao) containing money to their children, younger relatives, and older relatives and friends as a sign of prosperity and good luck for the New Year. (Singapore Lunar New Year 2017).
By Ammy Luy
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