Chinese New Year is a huge affair in the East. With a whole 15-day celebration (Yes, the festival lasts for 15 days on the Chinese calendar), even the most hardworking Asians stop work and start to feast and celebrate, to welcome the New Year! It’s been over 3 years since I last celebrated this Oriental event. With festive music playing and New Year snacks on sale everywhere, it’s hard not to get into the thick festive mood here in Singapore!
Also known as ‘Chun Jie’ (Spring Festival), Chinese all around the world reunite with their families, dress up in red and celebrate the festivities with firecrackers and lion dance. Before the arrival of the New Year, night markets are lit up everywhere, selling New Year snacks –Pineapple tarts, Bak kwa (Barbequed meat) and love letters. Crowds gather as the mad rush for festive shopping make walking barely possible in these colorful night bazaars.
At the bazaars, it is also not difficult to spot the God of Wealth ‘Cai Shen Yeh’ – dressed in bright red royal robe, and a big black scholar hat, and a gold ingot in hand, he’s unmistakably the most popular God of all.
Symbolizations of traditions
Red to us Chinese, symbolizes prosperity and good luck. Interestingly, every Chinese tradition has its own symbolic meaning –most signify wealth and abundance. Such as the ‘Hongbao’ (Red packets that contain money) that we exchange with our family and loved ones – using red and usually a character ‘fu’ (Good Fortune) on it to give our blessings. During the festive season, we visit our relatives or friends, with a pair of Mandarin Oranges and a ‘Hongbao’ as a token of fortune. The Mandarin Orange is an auspicious fruit for the Chinese due to their round shape, which represents full circle – like everything in life.
Many New Year products are also representations of blessings, such as pouches with the word ‘man’ (Abundance) that will assure your pockets full and heavy in the coming New Year. Poetic word scrolls are also a hot favourite, used as to decorate the home and bring in good luck.
Typical Proverbs like ‘Abundance every year’ or ‘May Prosperity roll in your way’ are written using calligraphy, adding an artistic touch to the scrolls. Fish is also a popular symbol, painted everywhere as the word fish in Chinese rhythms with ‘Abundance’.
New Year food and what they represent
A popular fruit eaten during the festive season besides the Mandarin Oranges, is the Pomelo. It symbolizes abundance and prosperity, in Chinese it rhythms with “to have”. The Chinese believe it is important to have at least one pomelo in the house for decoration, or better still, to have a pair, since good things always come in pairs. To use a pomelo to decorate one’s home during the New Year implies a wish that the home will have everything it needs the coming year.
‘Nian Gao’ (Year cake made of glutinous rice) is an essential for children, as it represents growth. In Chinese, ‘Nian’ means year, and ‘Gao’ means tall/high. It thus symbolizes progress and improvement at work and in daily life year by year.
The Chinese also love munching on these dried watermelon seeds while at the homes of relatives, chatting and catching up. In Chinese, they are called ‘Gua Zi’, and signify having a large number of children. Especially for young couples, these are great New Year’s symbol.
- Greet others with “Gong Xi Fa Cai” which means “Wishing You Prosperity and Wealth”.
- Give two Mandarin Oranges to each child. Because happiness comes in two’s, do not just give one. This is your way of passing good luck to the next generation. Business owners also give lee see’s to employees and associates.
- Wear brand new clothes – preferably in red. Children should wear new clothes and new shoes.
- Don’t wash your hair. (I still don’t know why!)
- Don’t sweep the floor, so you won’t be sweeping all your luck away.
- Don’t greet people who are in mourning. Chinese believe that bad and good occasions collide.
- Don’t drop your chopsticks. It’s a bad sign…
- Don’t say the number ‘four’ (In Chinese, it rhythms with ‘death’) or mention death.