Chinese New Year

Category: Social Practices, Rituals and Festive Events

Chinese New Year is a festival observed by ethnic Chinese all over the world. It falls on the first day of the Lunar calendar (usually January or February on the Gregorian calendar). There are different myths surrounding the origin of the festival, one being an ancient sacrificial rite called la ji (腊祭) held to give thanks to the gods and pray for more plentiful harvests ahead, the other being the legend of nian (), a mythical beast that was driven away by loud noises and bright red colours.

Devotees make their offerings on the eve of Lunar New YearDevotees make their offerings on the eve of Lunar New Year. Source: Roots.sg

Prior to the start of Chinese New Year, many Chinese families will spring clean their households. The Chinese word for “dust” is chen (尘), which is homophone for the word “old”. Hence, the act of sweeping away dust is symbolic of getting rid of bad luck and old things to usher in the new year.

It is also common for Chinese families to put up decorations around the house, such as spring festival couplets (chun lian , 春联 ), red paper cuttings with auspicious words such as fu (), and plants such as the pussywillow (yin liu, 银柳) which is believed to bring in wealth. Many Chinese families will also buy new clothes to wear on the actual day of Chinese New Year, and stock up on festive foods

The highlight for the festival is usually the family reunion dinner, which takes place on the eve of Chinese New Year. The reunion dinner is also known as tuan yuan fan (团圆饭), as tuan yuan refers to the reuniting and coming together of family and friends. Chinese households will usually expend considerable efforts in preparing the meal.

During Chinese New Year, families and friends would visit each other to offer good wishes, with the practice of giving out red packets to unmarried members from the younger generation. Singapore also observes a number of practices that are unique to the region or which reflect their southern Chinese origins. For example, it is customary to offer the host a pair of mandarin oranges when visiting and to receive another pair in return. This practice is believed to be linked to how the Chinese name for Mandarin oranges is a homonym for “luck in abundance” while the Cantonese pronunciation of another name for mandarin orange (gan) sounds like gold (kam).

Food also reflects localised customs of Chinese New Year celebrations. Bak kwa, or barbecued pork, originated in Fujian, but Singapore versions are said to have a sweeter and smokier flavour as a result of being grilled over a charcoal fire. The practice of eating bak kwa during Chinese New Year is unique to Singapore and Malaysia, as is the custom of tossing raw fish salad (yusheng, 鱼生) and reciting auspicious phrases (lo hei捞起). The latter tradition is widespread enough that non-Chinese also partake in it at large events, or among friends and colleagues.


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