With the Year of the Rabbit just around the corner, here’s a beginners guide as to how you can get into the spirit of Chinese New Year:
1. Spring Clean
It’s important to start each New Year afresh, which means undertaking a thorough spring cleaning of your life and home. Your house should be cleaned from top to bottom – this symbolises sweeping away the dust and dirt of the old year in preparation for welcoming in the new. Now is also the time to go out and buy new clothes, fill the house with fresh food, get a hair cut and clear all your debts.
2. Decorate home
Once the house has been thoroughly cleaned, it’s time to decorate it with symbols of good fortune, usually in bright red and gold. Hang red banners or ‘couplets’ adorned with new year wishes and symbols of good fortune; buy a couple of orange or kumquat trees to symbolise good health and long life and arrange a vase of pussy willows, on which to hang auspicious items such as hong bao (see below).
3. Hong Bao
These red packets adorned with lucky symbols are filled with money and traditionally given to the children and younger members of the family. These are also given to any single members of the family (although once you start work, you usually don’t qualify any more!) More often than not these days, bosses hand out hong bao to their employees as a new year ‘bonus’. The amount of money given is discretionary, but should always be of an even number – and remember that being miserly is never considered auspicious!
4. Reunion Dinner
Traditionally the reunion dinner, when all the family gather together on Chinese New Year’s eve to eat, drink and be merry, is held in the home of the family matriarch. However more often than not these days, Singaporean families head to a favourite restaurant at some point during the New Year period. In Singapore, families often opt for a steamboat for their reunion dinner (where each diner cooks his or her own food in a boiling pot of soup in the middle of table), others opt for a yu sheng (a raw fish salad which all family members toss together at the beginning of the meal), or an elaborate Chinese banquet including delicacies such as sharks fin and abalone.
5. Lion Dance
You’ll notice many lion dance troops making their way around Singapore in the next few weeks, so try to make sure you catch one in action. Believed to chase away the evil spirits and welcome in happiness and prosperity, this dance, accompanied by its loud drums, cymbals and gongs always causes much excitement. Business owners (or whoever the recipient of the dance is) will ‘feed’ the lion with oranges, green vegetables and hong bao in the hope of bringing prosperity in the coming year.
6. Exchange Oranges
Mandarin oranges are considered to be auspicious, symbolising good health and prosperity. If you visit anyone during the Chinese New Year period, be sure to present your host or hostess with two of these auspicious fruit – don’t worry, you’ll be given two in return!
7. Eat Sweets
As if you need an excuse to gorge yourselves on sweets, but now you really have one – it’s considered good luck! Eating sweets signifies that your year ahead will be filled with sweetness. Head to the Chinatown food market to stock up on pineapple tarts, love letters, candied sweets, nian gao (“new year cake”) and candied fruits.
Gong Xi Fa Cai!