With bright colors and non-stop revelry, Chinese New Year, also known as Lunar New Year or the Spring Festival, is undoubtedly the most important event in the Chinese calendar. This year, it falls on February 1 and it is the Year of the Water Tiger.
While the celebrations may be a little subdued, one can still soak up the festive mood with celebrations across the island city. The heart of the action is always at Chinatown where the streets are lit and lined with rows of multi-colored lights and beautifully designed lanterns. The breath-taking River Hongbao celebration taking place at Marina Bay by the Esplanade Waterfront, promises a huge variety of entertainment and cultural events suitable for all ages. And you wouldn’t want to miss out on the spectacular Chingay Parade which brings together multi-cultural performers from across the globe with a grand opening, and larger than life performances that include acrobat artists, giant artistic puppets and dramatic shows. Chinese families, organizations and business owners typically invite lion dance troupes to perform the ritual during the 15-day Chinese New Year period to attract good luck and fortune to their homes, shops or offices for the year ahead.
Red is the color of the season. You’ll see it in the red Ang Pows (red envelops) filled with money, presented to children and younger relatives. Bright hues of brand-new clothes are a must. All Chinese homes are thoroughly spring-cleaned and decorated with touches of crimson everywhere – lanterns, banners, and ribbons on kumquat plants. The yellow fruit from the plant symbolizes ‘gold’ or prosperity.
On the eve of Chinese New Year, families gather for a reunion dinner. It is regarded as the most important get-together meal of the entire year. All the lights are switched on in the house, and all windows kept open to welcome auspicious energies.
To attract luck and prosperity to the home, the following dishes are essential to the sumptuous feast laid at the table.
Jiao Zi: This is a type of dumpling that symbolizes wealth and longevity. They have a round shape, quite similar to the old Japanese money.
Tray of Togetherness: This tray is usually filled with eight types of snacks such as pecan nuts, hazelnuts, chestnuts, almonds, peach seeds, prunes, apricots, nuts, and small ingots, and sweets, and as you’d have probably guessed – these symbolize abundance and prosperity! Some like to place oranges and pomelos for wealth and pomegranate for fertility.
Fish: In Mandarin, Fish (yú) has the same pronunciation as Surplus (yú). Which explains why steamed whole fish is a traditional Chinese New Year dish so as “to have surplus at the end of the year”. In Chinese tradition, it is believed that if you managed to save something at the end of the year, you’ll be able to make more in the new year.
Duck: Symbolizes fidelity in the Chinese culture. Known for its thin, crispy skin and tender meat, the trick to achieving this texture is through many steps that include boiling, hanging the duck to dry, basting, and roasting. On New Year’s Day, duck, like chicken or fish, is often served whole because slicing or cutting represents negative things, such as severing family ties.
Bird’s Nest Soup: Steeped in history, the soup is one of the most luxurious and expensive delicacies in Chinese cuisine. The shallow cup-shaped nest that hangs from the sides of caves takes the swiftlet bird over 30 days to build. It symbolizes long life and youthfulness, and hence, consuming it during Chinese New Year is a great opportunity to wish for both. The best way to enjoy Bird’s Nest Soup is just with water and rock sugar, and you can add dates as well.
Nian Gao: A rice dessert that is appreciated all over the world, with a tradition as old as 3,000 years.These small cakes, made out of sticky rice, sugar, and other ingredients, are consumed for prosperity.
Noodles: Eating noodles is ritual practised by the Chinese to attract longevity. However, one must remember not to cut the noodles when eating as it’s not auspicious!
Lo Han Jai: Commonly known as Buddha’s Delight, this vegetarian dish is one that makes it to every new year banquet! It’s a big pot of simmering vegetables, fungi, black moss (fat choy) and bean curd in a broth, consumed for good health.