Chinese New Year: Traditions in SG

The year of the rooster is ending and the year of the dog is right around the corner! Thousands of people throughout Singapore and worldwide are getting ready to celebrate Chinese New Year! To have a more profound understanding of Chinese New Year, our team interviewed one of their own member, Lois Chan. She is originally from Mainland China and talks about the traditions around Chinese New Year.

– Hello Lois, could you tell us a little bit about yourself? Where you are from? How long have you been in SG and where have you lived when you were younger?

– Safe! Hello Team UEX! Originally, I was born and raised in Guangzhou. It is located in the South of China about 2 hours away from Hong-Kong! When I was young, my family moved to Hong-Kong. I left for New-Zealand for my middle and high-school and then moved to Canada for my university studies. After that, I returned to Hong-Kong and I’d been there for almost a decade before my family and I moved to Singapore.

– That’s great, you’ve moved around so much! Why did you decide to finally settle in Singapore?

– If you have ever visited Hong-Kong, you would know that’s it’s very packed and it’s not a great family-friendly city. Whereas in Singapore, you actually can see the sky, you have fresh air and much more space and nature but most importantly it is great for family and kids!

– So how long have you been with the UEX team?

– I started last year, around November!

– That was not too long ago! Let’s start talking a little bit about our main subject Chinese New Year! What does it represent?

– Being Chinese, Chinese New Year is one of the major festivals. Think of it as Christmas in the Western world! In the chinese culture, this celebration is the beginning of the year. Lots of people around China or around the world leave their hometown for work and Chinese New Year really represents that moment of the year when families gather together and celebrate!

– And how do you plan Chinese New Year? I mean, what do you do before Chinese New Year? Do you cook, clean the house, things like that?

– For most Chinese people, there’s a special program to prepare it! First of all, on the 28th of the last month, you’re suppose to clean the house, get everything tidy up and ready for the New Year! The second step is to prepare the food for the gathering and as a cantonese, there’s very particular food for Chinese New Year, like lots of dry seafood like dry abalone, dry sea cucumbers and things like that! Typically, these things take at least a week to prepare.

– Lots of preparation!

– Yeah, two or three weeks before Chinese New Year, people start buying all the food necessary and preparing by baking special cakes like turnip cakes called Lo Bak Go in Chinese. There’s quite a ritual!

– What do you generally do for Chinese New Year?

– As I said earlier, Chinese New Year is a big family gathering. For me, it’s the perfect moment for my family to be reunited and spend some quality family time.

– What do you have planned this year?

– This year, my son and I are going back to Guangzhou to celebrate!

– What are the typical traditions in Singapore or in any other countries?

– There are actually quite a few! One of the most popular tradition is the red pockets, called Hongbao (Hong Bao ) in Chinese. Just to explain the concept quickly: there are little red envelopes and people put money in it. It’s a symbol of good luck, of wealth and prosperity for the year to come. For people that are married, you have to give out red pockets to people that are not married. Many bosses hand out hongbao to their staffs. Another tradition that used to be quite common but is now prohibited in many cities across Mainland China are fireworks. Before they banned it, I remember when I was younger, every single family wanted to do that, but it’s a fire hazard and it’s very dangerous. People used to get quite badly injured because of this tradition and I think that is why they stopped it.

– And how about the lion dance?

– China still has some lion dances but mostly for corporate prosperity. Normal families do not perform lion dances as often as before. However, they are still quite common in Hong-Kong but in Singapore, I do not know yet.

– How long does Chinese New Year last generally?

– It lasts at least 7 days minimum but usually the celebrations start a week before Chinese New Year. In total, it lasts easily at least two weeks.

– And how is the date of the Chinese New Year determined?

– It is based on the lunar calendar so the date changes every year.

– Have you observed very different ways of celebrating depending on the country you live in? Like Singapore, Hong-kong, Mainland China, and even New-Zealand and Canada?

– There are lots of similar ways to celebrate, the key similarity surrounds hongbao and family gathering. The differences can often be found in the food, for example northern and southern China have very different traditional foods. The Northerners will have dumplings during New Year’s eve, whereas the Cantoneses will tend to have dry seafood. Singapore also has a very unique food called Lo Hei, which is a dish that no one knows about outside of Singapore. In China or in Canton, you don’t have something so unique like the Singaporeans, but we have a very large selection of different foods. So it doesn’t matter which country you are in while celebrating Chinese New Year, where you and your family are from determines how you celebrate.

– And last but not least, do you have any plans for the UEX team to celebrate CNY?

– We are definitely planning on having our own Lo Hei!

Just a little bit about this singaporean traditional dish called “Lo Hei”. This ritual consists in “tossing good fortune” while saying wishes before eating the dish. Each ingredient of the dish has a particular meaning like the raw fish symbolizes abundance and are added in a specific order while reciting wishes of good luck and prosperity.
Singapore offers a large range of activities during the celebrations. Go and visit Chinatown to enjoy the Chinese New Year fever!

Lois and the UEX team hope you enjoy your own Lo hei and have a happy Chinese New Year!

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