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 and handy tips for you to experience a truly authentic, fun and prosperous start to the Year of the Ox.
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 and what to do
The Sampan at Boat Quay is a great spot for a meal with a view. Serving Pan-Asian cuisine, the casual restaurant and bar’s menu brings together flavours from all across the region. You can choose to sit indoors or outdoors – we recommend getting a spot outside where you’ll be right by the water.
For Chinese New Year, they’ll be rolling out special dishes on 11 and 12 February. For $88 per person, you can dig into a tasty eight-course meal made exclusively for the occasion. Start your meal by tossing a sesame-crusted tuna yusheng to usher in the new year. After that, you can enjoy a variety of dishes including fresh oysters, hoisin duck bao and fried rice with sea bass au papillote. For even more festive flavour, pair your meal with a Mandarin Orange Highball ($18).
Tip: There are limited tables by the river, so book fast!
Don’t miss a stroll through Chinatown where you can admire the annual festive street light-up. From 23 January to 12 March, the streets will be filled with stunning sculptured lanterns that feature the zodiac animal of the year, the ox, plus golden coins and ingots, flowers and festive greetings. See them at New Bridge Road, Eu Tong Sen Street and South Bridge Road. If you’re not keen to head down in person, you can check out the light-up online through the Chinatown 360 Virtual Tour.
There won’t be a festive street bazaar this year, but there are still online programmes and activities to take part in. For instance, go on a fun virtual heritage tour around Chinatown, enter giveaways, join an interactive family photo collage activity, watch short films about Chinatown merchants and learn more about the traditions of Chinese New Year. Find out more on the Chinatown Festivals Facebook page and website.
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’ll definitely want to catch! For the first time, the parade will take place virtually this year, on 20 February. With the theme “Light of Hope”, the event will stream online and on TV from 8pm to 9pm. Over 2,000 performers and 150 organisations are involved – and keep an eye out for the 100-lion dance segment that’s being put together using CGI. It’ll feature troupes from more than 10 different cities across the world.
Besides watching the show, there’ll also be fun activities to take part in. These include talent and design competitions, a singalong and a built-a-float activity. Find out more now.
Gardens by the Bay
The Dahlia Dreams Floral Display returns to the Flower Dome from 15 January to 21 February. Enjoy a dazzling display of 1,400 dahlias (all grown in-house!) and other festive and auspicious plants like azaleas and chrysanthemum flowers.
Universal Studios Singapore
Join the USS Lunar New Year celebration, Usher In The Fun, from 7 January to 28 February. Enjoy meet-and-greets with your favourite characters such as Po from Kung Fu Panda, Woody and Winnie Woodpecker, and Minions Stuart, Bob and Kevin (who’ll be in a specially designed ox outfit!). Characters from Sesame Street, Madagascar and Shrek will also be making appearances. For those who love Transformers, you can catch Optimus Prime and Megatron throwing out Mandarin greetings for the occasion. The park will also be serving Chinese New Year-themed treats for everyone to enjoy.
While you’re at RWS, pop by S.E.A. Aquarium for more festive fun. At Spring in the Sea (9 January to 2 March), you’ll spy marine life such as seahorses, vase and scroll corals, and slingjaw wrasses that represent happiness, wealth and luck. As you explore the exhibits, follow the Trail of Fortune and look out for hidden gold ingots. Also, get your cameras ready for photo ops with the mythical sea dragon at Sea Dragon Surprise, a series of dragon dance-inspired photo installations around the aquarium.
Head to Takashimaya to pick up some yummy Chinese New Year treats! Four brands have teamed up with the department store to exclusively sell their goodies this year. They are Rasa Sayang, Mdm Ling Bakery, Bake Inc and Kee Wah Bakery. You can also find other great brands such as Peony Jade and My Mum’s Cookies, which have rolled out special CNY items with a twist.
Besides food, take advantage of deals for fashion, beauty, accessories and lifestyle products. Find out more now.
Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall
The annual Wan Qing Festival of Spring is back until 28 February 2021. With the aim to promote the appreciation of Chinese New Year, the event offers activities for the whole family, including crafts for kids, lion dance and drum workshops, and walking trails. Don’t miss the outdoor festive installation “Double Prosperity” that showcases two large Chinese guardian lions. The display emphasises the Chinese proverb “good things come in pairs” and expresses the memorial hall’s wish for protection against COVID-19 and blessings for Singapore.
You can also join in the festivities online at the Facebook page. Programmes include lion dance performances, cooking demonstrations and festival traditions. Head to the memorial hall’s website for more details.
Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre
The Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre’s red packets return in 2021 in the form of a “talking” red packet using AR! By scanning the QR code on the red packet, you’ll be able to hear Chinese New Year greetings in Mandarin and five other dialects (Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese, Hakka and Hainanese). There’ll also be a series of programmes on Chinese New Year customs and traditions to take part in online.
Keen for more? Check out Moo Moo PARK (until 28 March), a drive-through exhibition featuring artwork from eight local artists through interactive and immersive tech. You can choose to view the displays on foot or ride along in an electric car.
Huayi – Chinese Festival of Arts
The annual cultural festival returns to Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay from 19 February to 14 March. It’ll feature a variety of ticketed and non-ticketed programmes for the whole family. Many productions will be live-streamed so you can enjoy them from home. Find out more on the Facebook page.
Dos and Don’ts during the Lunar New Year
Tips from Master Clarice Chan’s Guide to 2021. The book is available online at her website.
- 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.
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.
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