I love Singapore and one of my favourite parts of the year in this fantastically diverse country is Chunjie, known throughout the world as Spring Festival, or more famously as Chinese New Year! With so many celebrations and a unique Singaporean take on cultural traditions, experiencing Singapore in February is mindblowing!
With such a large Chinese heritage in Singapore, it is no surprise that the Chinese New Year is celebrated with relish, but unlike many other countries where the celebrations are limited to small pockets of the community, Singapore embraces it across the entire city state as it does with every other religious celebration of its ethnically diverse population. Banners, animal statues related to which year is being celebrated, lanterns and the colour red are absolutely everywhere, and unlike most other places, the festivities start at the end of January and carry on to pretty much the end of February!
I have been lucky enough to spend three of the past four Chinese New Years in Singapore, and each time it is exciting and invigorating.
Singapore truly is an absolute model of multiculturalism. It is one of the many reasons why I love being here, as you not only see and experience cultures and traditions from any one of its Chinese, Malay, Tamil, Indian and Western influences, but also the subtle but unique Singapore flavour to each of the celebrations too.
With so many things going on, it can help to have a little bit of an understanding behind the traditions behind the festivities, so you can sit back, relax and just enjoy them!
Red, red everywhere!
Everywhere you go in Singapore will be dressed up, draped and decorated in red throughout February. Red and gold are traditional at this time of year because according to legend, they symbolize energy, happiness and good luck, and drive away evil spirits and bad luck. Whether you believe that or not, it certainly makes everything look pretty striking!
The red theme continues with the red envelopes that you will see everywhere at this time of year. Wrapping money in red packets known as hongbao and giving them to others is a way of wishing them happiness, luck and prosperity in the new year. As a traveller you won’t be expected to give or recieve any – unless you want to of course – but it’s nice to know the meaning behind them all, and if you want to put a few together then Singapore have even prepared a ton of temporary pop up ATMs with crisp new notes for that exact purpose through the city!
Cleaning and decorating.
Similar to the concept of spring cleaning, the Chinese Spring Festival is a time to get rid of all the clutter, sweep away the bad luck of the previous year and usher in the new. Not that you will notice much difference in the ultra clean city anyway! But this tradition doesn’t just stop at cleaning your home, new clothes are often worn too so what better excuse do you have for going shopping in any one of the dozens of world class malls?
Observe Buddhism, or at least watch.
Head to the Thian Hock Keng Temple or the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum in Chinatown to get a glimpse of Buddhist traditions at this time of year. Namely lighting incense and offering symbols of wealth such as Mandarin oranges to Buddha. You can even stay to enjoy the stunning architecture!
Food, food and more food!
One of the absolute highlights of Singapore at any time of the year is the food, and there are so many mind blowing food havens that you would think it couldn’t get any better! But it does! Smith Street is not as good as it used to be with the recent refurbishments, but Chinatown in general is still the place to go for some truly awesome traditional Chinese treats. Pineapple tarts and mandarin oranges are everywhere because those fruits are associated with wealth and luck, and you have to try some nian gao, a sweet, sticky rice cake! Good luck dumplings, long, thin noodles which represent long life, spring rolls that symbolize wealth and whole fish that is meant to give you a year of wealth and happiness. Basically, order a ton of fish, dumplings, noodles and fruit off every menu you can and you are sure to have a year full of good luck, good wealth and happiness! Just make sure you make time for the gym in March!
One of the great Chinese New Year foodie traditions that has developed in Singapore – and to a slightly lesser extent Malaysia – that you must get involved in is sharing a bowl of raw fish and vegetable salad known as Yu Sheng. Each diner then participates in the prosperity toss, where you all stick your chopsticks into the bowl, chuck them into the air and catch them on the plate. The higher the toss, the bigger your earnings will be for the year! I’m not sure what it means if the contents land on the floor – or another diners head – but it probably isn’t good so best not to get too enthusiastic!
Now that you know a few of the basic traditions, feel free to head down to the over the top Chingay street parade, hang out and enjoy the festivities in Chinatown or watch the performances and street art along the riverfront at the Marina Bay Sands platform and the Esplanade promenade. With so many amazing places to stay in Singapore during the festivities you really have no excuse not to. Chinese New Year in Singapore is one of the best times to see the city, and you can get a deeper understanding of the unique relationship between Chinese and Singaporean cultures too.
Gong Xi Fa Cai!
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