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 Rat.
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 stroll through Chinatown, where you can admire the annual festive street light-up. From 4 January to 22 February, the streets will be filled with 200 stunning handcrafted lanterns featuring the zodiac animal of the year, the rat, plus the other 11 Chinese zodiac animals, golden coins, flowers and festive greetings. A highlight is the towering centrepiece, featuring the Golden Rat and other rats celebrating on top of a bed of gold coins, pink peonies and a giant ingot, symbolising good luck and prosperity. Afterwards, you can head to the Garden Link Bridge and check out the rat lanterns inspired by the Five Elements of Chinese Philosophy (wood, fire, earth, metal and water).
Once you’ve checked 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. With 329 stores this year, the bazaar sprawls across Pagoda, Smith, Sago, Temple and Trengganu Streets, daily from 6pm to 10.30pm, from 3 to 24 January. While you’re there, head to Kreta Ayer Square to catch nightly traditional performances (8pm to 10.30pm, from 4 to 24 January). There’ll be Chinese songs for the New Year and lively cultural performances by local and international groups, including traditional Cantonese opera.
Also, if you’re free on the night of the 4th (from 9.30pm), join the crowd to usher in the Year of the Rat at the Chinatown Chinese New Year Countdown Party. You can expect 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 2020 edition will begin with a bang (literally), with the release of 200-metre-long firecrackers. With the theme “Colours in Harmony”, the performance will showcase Singapore’s culture and diversity. It’ll be a colourful and vibrant spectacle, with elaborate costumes, energetic dance moves and spectacular special effects, lasers, pyrotechnics and a fireworks show. Chingay is on 31 January and 1 February from 8pm to 9.30pm. Get your tickets now.
Join Cluny Court to welcome the Year of the Rat during the lion dance on 2 February! Head to the main entrance of the mall at 11am and be ready for an energetic performance.
Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall
The annual Wan Qing Festival of Spring returns from 1 to 2 February. With the aim to promote appreciation of Chinese New Year, the weekend event will feature fun activities including a mass lo hei, zodiac horoscope predictions, arts and craft workshops, guided tours and evening concerts. Don’t miss the outdoor installation “Lunar Guardians” (until 9 February), showcasing two lion-dance-inspired sculptures designed in an anime style. Find out more now.
Head to the Outdoor Plaza from now till 23 January (11am to 9pm) and browse Chinese New Year treats, decorations and more at Capitol Singapore’s Lunar New Year Fair. With over 26 booths to check out, items on sale at the fair include cookies, bak kwa, flowers and fashion accessories. As you shop, little ones will be kept entertained at the play zone that has a ball pit and claw machines. There are also interactive craft workshops to take part in (pop art rings and flower magnets). You can also look forward to a variety of performances such as traditional flag dances, taiji showcases and wushu routines. Find out more on the mall website.
From now until 2 February (8pm to 11pm), catch the laser projection show at the CHIJMES lawn. Watch as Chinese New Year festive animations appear on the façade of CHIJMES Hall. Get more details on the CHIJMES website.
Gardens by the Bay
From 27 January to 9 February, celebrate the new year at Spring Surprise 2020. It’s one not to miss, with festive performances and fun for the whole family, including pyrotechnic displays, lion dances and Chinese orchestra performances. This year, there’ll also be a special Golden Pyro Dragon Dance from 31 January to 2 February (9.10pm).
The Dahlia Dreams Floral Display returns to the Flower Dome. From 17 January to 23 February, with a dazzling display of beautiful dahlias and other festive and auspicious plants like narcissus and chrysanthemum. Visitors can also enjoy a beautiful landscape of Chinese paintings, with a pavilion and cutouts of cranes and mountains.
Celebrate the Lunar New Year at The Float @ Marina Bay from 23 January to 1 February. Besides feasting your eyes on handmade lanterns, you can look forward to cultural exhibitions and performances and games, Also, don’t miss the fireworks display!
Resorts World Sentosa
Join the fun Lunar New Year celebrations at RWS this year (11 January to 9 February). 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 for underwater dragon dances and other fun activities.
Huayi – Chinese Festival of Arts
The annual cultural festival returns to Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay from 31 January to 9 February. It will feature a variety of ticketed and non-ticketed programmes for the whole family, from dance and music to theatre and workshops. Get your tickets now.
Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre
Enjoy fun photo opportunities with the family at the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre from now until 8 February. The roof garden will be decorated with supersized pineapples (up to three-metres!), mahjong tiles and bags of gold. While there, you can also check out the murals of CNY celebrations by Singaporean illustrator Lee Xin Li.
The Istana is rarely accessible to the public, so this is your chance to see this Singapore landmark. On 26 January, 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, watch performances and tour the function rooms where Singaporean leaders have their meetings. Opening hours are typically from 8.30am to 6pm.
Dos and Don’ts during the Lunar New Year
Tips from Master Clarice Chan’s Guide to 2020. 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.
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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