Noticed all the lanterns and bright lights across Chinatown? Yep, it’s that time of the year again! Chinese New Year is in full force in Singapore, so we’ve listed some great events, handy tips and yummy snacks for you to experience a truly authentic, fun and prosperous start to the Year of the Pig.
What’s it all about?
Marking the beginning of the new year on the Chinese lunar calendar, Chinese New Year (also known as Lunar New Year) is celebrated by communities all over the world. The festivities traditionally last for a total of 15 days. The evening before the first day is typically spent having a sumptuous dinner with family (called the reunion dinner) and common traditions include buying new clothes, exchanging oranges, giving red packets and putting up decorations such as lanterns to bring good luck and fortune.
There are many legends surrounding the origins of the festival, with the story of Nian being one of the popular ones. According to Chinese myth, a monster called Nian lived in the mountains surrounding a village. On the first day of every year, he would torment the villagers, feasting on grain, cattle … and children! They eventually discovered that the beast was afraid of loud noises and the colour red. So, to get rid of Nian, they spread red across the village, banged on drums and set off fireworks. And Nian never returned. These actions became part of the New Year tradition – hanging up red decorations and lanterns, and playing loud drums. In Mandarin, the word for New Year is guo nian, which literally translates to “overcoming Nian”.
Where to go
Don’t miss a visit to Chinatown to admire the annual festive street light-up. From now until 6 March, the streets will be filled with stunning handcrafted lanterns (2,688 of them!) featuring the zodiac animal of the year, the pig, plus flowers, greetings and more. You’ll want to head to the Garden Link Bridge and check out the showcase of three generations of pigs enjoying traditional activities such as playing chess and selling street snacks such as sugar-coated hawthorne. The highlight would be the 12 metre-tall sculpture of a family of pigs standing atop a purse overflowing with gold coins.
After checking out the lights, hit the bustling festive street bazaar, which is filled with store after store selling everything from new year goodies and delicacies to clothing and décor for the season. The bazaar sprawls across Pagoda, Smith, Sago, Temple and Trengganu Streets, daily from 6pm to 10.30pm, from now until 4 February. While you’re there, head to Kreta Ayer Square to catch nightly traditional performances (8pm to 10.30pm) – expect Chinese songs for the new year and lively cultural performances by local and international groups.
Also, if you’re free on the night of the 4th (from 9.30pm), join the crowd to usher in the Year of the Pig at the Chinatown Chinese New Year Countdown Party. There’ll be festive songs, performances and games to entertain the family all night long, culminating in firecrackers and a fireworks display.
Of course, we can’t forget the annual Chingay Parade. This is the largest street performance and float parade in Asia, so it’s one you really should make an effort to see! The 2019 edition will showcase a 270-metre by 7-metre painting depicting the past, present and future of Singapore. The parade will also feature spectacular special effects, lasers, pyrotechnics, colourful costumes, vibrant dance moves and a stunning fireworks display. Chingay will be held on 15 and 16 February from 8pm to 9.30pm. Get your tickets now.
Gardens by the Bay
From 2 to 10 February, celebrate the new year at Spring Surprise 2019. Enjoy festive performances and fun for the whole family, including LED performances, lion dances and Chinese orchestra performances. It will be held at the Supertree Grove, Flower Dome and The Canopy.
The Dahlia Dreams Floral Display returns to the city’s iconic garden. From now until 24 February, feast your eyes on beautiful dahlias and other festive and auspicious plants like narcissus, cymbidium and chrysanthemum. Visitors can also enjoy the beautiful landscape of Chinese imperial gardens, a 40-metre-long archway of red lanterns and more.
Singapore River Hong Bao
Welcome the new year at The Float @ Marina Bay from 3 to 10 February. Besides feasting your eyes on lanterns depicting Chinese mythological figures, you can look forward to cultural performances, music and an exhibition depicting Singapore’s history from a modest port city to what it is today. Also, don’t miss the fireworks display, featuring four distinct types across the eight days. Check out the fireworks schedule here.
This annual cultural festival returns to Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay from 15 to 24 February. Look forward to a variety of ticketed and non-ticketed programmes for the whole family, from dance and music to theatre and workshops. Get your tickets now.
Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall
The annual Wan Qing Festival of Spring returns from 16 to 17 February. With the aim to promote the appreciation of Chinese New Year, the weekend event will feature fun activities including a mass lohei, zodiac horoscope predictions, arts and craft workshops, guided tours and evening concerts. Don’t miss the outdoor installation (until 24 February) showcasing the 12 animals of the zodiac calendar. Find out more now.
Resorts World Sentosa
Join the fun Lunar New Year celebrations at RWS this year. At Universal Studios Singapore, enjoy a dragon dance and snap a photo with your favourite Sesame Street characters dressed in their new year best. Or hop over to the S.E.A. Aquarium from 25 January to 19 February for underwater dragon dances and other fun activities.
The Istana is rarely accessible to the public, so this is your chance to see this Singapore landmark. On 6 February, the doors will be opened, and for just a few dollars (free for Singaporeans and PRs, $2 for others), you can explore the expansive grounds, enjoy performances and tour the function rooms where Singaporean leaders have their meetings. Opening hours are typically from 8.30am to 6pm.
Take a break from shopping and enjoy the CNY festivities at ION Orchard. Until 19 February, watch a special multimedia project lightshow at ION Sky (Level 56) featuring koi fish. Drop by the Chinese Garden at Level 3 and learn more about your Chinese zodiac sign and predictions for the New Year. While there, catch the lion dance performances (5, 6, 9, 10, 16 & 17 February at 3.08pm) at the Level 1 atrium and meet the roving God of Fortune (5 & 6 February at 1.30pm) as he hands out festive treats. There’ll also be CNY-themed art exhibition at ION Art by the Singapore Art Society (1 to 10 February).
Dos and Don’ts during the Lunar New Year
Tips from Your Fortune in 2019 by Feng Shui Master Clarice Chan. The book is available at all Kinokuniya and MPH bookstores.
- Make sure you say “Gong Xi Fa Cai” to wish friends and colleagues a prosperous New Year.
- Prepare food before New Year’s Day so that all sharp instruments such as knives and scissors can be put away. This avoids cutting the luck out of the New Year or severing any ties with family and friends.
- Refrain from using negative expressions or talking ill of others; it’s a time to promote joy and abundance.
- Don’t wash your hair on the first day of the Lunar New Year as hair has the same sound as the word fatt or fa, which means prosperity. Therefore, washing your hair will encourage any wealth and prosperity to be washed away. Clothes should not be washed on this day for the same reason.
- Colours are very important to the Chinese. Typically, only bright colours are considered auspicious, especially red and gold. White and black are generally associated with sad occasions such as funerals or illness, and are therefore considered unlucky or inauspicious.
- Gifts are not common except for Mandarin oranges, which are mandatory to offer to hosts when visiting during the first 15 days of the Lunar New Year.
- Unmarried adults and children receive “Hong Baos” or “Ang Pows” from married family members and friends. These red envelopes are filled with crisp new bills totalling an even amount of money. Odd numbers are not given during the celebrations.
- Spring cleaning is an important custom that the Chinese still observe and it should preferably begin on the designated date from the Almanac (list of upcoming events). You should ideally complete spring cleaning your home by Lunar New Year Eve so you can begin the new year with positive energy.
Food and other preparations:
- Always use new Ang Pow packets.
- Always fill your Ang Pows with new banknotes.
- Have plenty of Mandarin oranges available.
- Use a circular candy tray.
- Keep some flowers, especially plum blossoms, peach blossoms and pussy willows. These flowers symbolise happiness and good fortune.
- Wear new clothes and shoes.
- Clean your entire home and get rid of all clutter.
- Put away old brooms and brushes as they are considered to bring bad luck; new brooms and brushes are very important.
- Pay off as many of your debts as possible, if you have any.
- Resolve differences with family members, friends, neighbours and business associates.
10 yummy must-eat snacks
- Bak Kwa (BBQ pork): This dried sweet meat snack is almost a staple during the Chinese New Year season. Coming in thin slices, they are usually made from pork. But stores like Bee Cheng Hiang are now selling those made from chicken.
- Pineapple Tarts: These buttery and crumbly pastries are filled with sweet pineapple and are believed to bring good luck. Pineapple is referred to as “ong lai” in Cantonese and means prosperity.
- Hae Bee Hiam (Spicy shrimp) rolls: These crisp and spicy deep fried rolls are a classic New Year snack and are so addictive – don’t be surprise if you start popping them in every minute!
- Mandarin oranges: Sweet with a tinge of tanginess, these oranges will help quench your thirst after all those Chinese New Year snacks.
- Yusheng: A huge dish piled high with colourful shredded vegetables and topped with raw fish, this is a must-have when celebrating the New Year.
- Nian Gao (Literally meaning “year cake”): This sticky rice cake is a popular and traditional snack, believed to mean the increase in fortune in the year ahead.
- Kueh Kapti (Love Letters): Thin, sweet and crisp, these coconut wafers are a favourite with the kids.
- Melon and lotus seeds: Often served during Chinese New Year, they represent the potential for good things to come.
- Cereal/cornflake cookies: Baked to a crispy golden brown, these crunchy snacks are light and delicious.
- Kueh Bangit (Fragrant cookies): These light and airy cookies melt-in-the-mouth and are made from coconut.