Chinese New Year is a very important holiday in Singapore, as majority of the local residents are of Chinese Singaporean ethnicity, by far the largest ethnic group in the country. Chinese Singaporean people are Singaporean nationals with full or partial Chinese heritage. Most of them can trace their ancestry back to southern China, and thus have inherited many of the traditions, values and religious practices of that region.
Also known as the Spring Festival, Chinese New Year is celebrated by Chinese Singaporeans of all religions, and non-Chinese residents and tourists also join in with the festivities. The government recognises the festival with a two-day public holiday, allowing workers to take time off to enjoy the celebrations with family and friends on the first and second days of the new year.
The Chinese New Year period runs from the last day of one year (Chinese New Year’s Eve) to the 15th day of the next. On the Gregorian calendar, it falls on a different day each year, ranging from 21st January to 20th February. This occurs because it is based on the Chinese calendar, where the year begins at the turn of Spring. The calendar has a 12-year cycle, with each year represented by one of 12 animals, such as the ox, tiger or rabbit. The animal sign of the new year features heavily in Chinese New Year celebrations.
Before Chinese New Year, several rituals take place. The Chinese clean their home thoroughly, buy new shoes and clothes, and decorate the home, all symbolic of welcoming the fresh start that a new year brings. Rituals differ based on religion, as Buddhism, Taoism and Christianity are all popular with Chinese Singaporeans. On New Year’s Eve, the Reunion Dinner (“Nian Ye Fan”) takes place, the Chinese equivalent of Thanksgiving, with traditional food such as dumplings and cake.
The first day of the Chinese New Year begins at midnight with traditional celebrations of lighting fireworks and burning bamboo sticks to ward off evil spirits. In Singapore, there are large public firework displays. Parties often feature a Lion Dance troupe, aiming to evict evil spirits from the home. It is considered bad luck to use brooms, knives or light fires on the first day, and many people also avoid eating meat. The day is usually spent visiting parents and grandparents, paying tribute to the elders. Young people and employees receive gifts of money from their families and employers.
The first fifteen days of the Chinese New Year have their own special significance, such as the birthday of all dogs on the second day, and the birthday of the Jade Emperor (the ruler of Heaven) on the ninth day. The 15th and final day of Chinese New Year is the day of the Lantern Festival and is celebrated in Singapore by those looking for a romantic partner. It is the Chinese equivalent of Valentine’s Day.
Images used with permission Chinese new year vector designed by Freepik