Ever since I moved to the UK for work, I have found it hard to keep up or observe the proper Chinese New Year traditions my mum used to teach me. I think part of it is because I have forgotten how it was as I have not been back to Singapore for 8 years during this festive period and another part of it is because I want to be a modern woman who doesn’t need to follow the superstitious rules.
Most of my Chinese friends are still quite superstitious over these traditions. They tend to share articles or videos on Facebook on topics such as the fortune of the 12 zodiac animals, when is the best time to deposit money on Li Chun Day, when is the best day to start work, etc. to make sure they all have a good start to the year.
So I still find myself spending at least 10 minutes watching these crappy fortune tellers telling us how we will fair for the whole year. I can’t ever remember them saying anything good for my zodiac animal even from since I was young. But they do offer their advice on how to block bad omen! Of course, this will lead to which crystal to buy for the year to make sure your wealth will grow, and many other talismans and lucky charms. Seriously, it has become so commercial. The sceptic in me says you can’t just group everyone into 12 ‘buckets’ for the same fortune as each other in the same bucket. So I don’t believe them but they do keep me entertained. I remember growing up, each year my aunties and uncles would make sure they watch the zodiac fortune on Channel 8 as part of their ‘must do’ things. They wouldn’t watch anything else, such as the variety shows and performances nor the fireworks but when the New Year fortunes came on, everyone would crowd around the television! Until now I still find it amusing.
Now let’s talk about a few of the Chinese New Year traditions that I still remember!
Before the big day, cleaning and decorating the house is very important! We have to clean every corner of the house even the windows. Most of us lived in flats/apartments and our windows can be quite big and tall. Some of the windows have lots of individual panels!
My mum loves to decorate the whole house full of superstitious banner. You can read this article I wrote few years ago. She will also get a mandarin plant but before she buys it, she will count how many mandarin fruits are hanging on the plant! She needs to make sure it is an even number and of course, she will then use that number to buy TOTO or 4D (4 digits). TOTO and 4D are similar to the Lotto in UK. You can read more here.
Next is food and snacks. They will stock up on different types of goodies as each food will represent an auspicious meaning. My mum is less fussy about food now as no one wants to eat those snacks except me. If I’m not there, my mum won’t buy too much. Last year, when my mum came to visit, she packed me a suitcase filled with all the snacks! I love all those snacks and I can eat them all, especially the egg roll! Oh, they are so delicious! You can also read the article I wrote about the Chinese New Year goodies and the Chinatown goodies here.
Must sure you clear your debts! I know it is not easy for home owners! Hence many Singaporeans will have at least two working parents and they have to work until the day they retire to be able to pay off their mortgages!
On the New Year’s Eve, everyone must get home to have their reunion dinner or lunch, depending if they work at various locations for those who have bigger families. Attendance is obligatory! No matter where you are, you have to be there. It is just like Christmas dinner! Next, there is a list of foods to be served on the table like fish, spring onion, abalone, a whole chicken etc. These are my friend’s reunion dinner picture that she shared with me.
After the dinner, children who are not married, will have to present two mandarin orange to their elderly in exchange of red packet for luck etc. Then the children change into new pyjamas including undies. Most of the children will stay up till the next morning, hoping their parents have a long life. This depends on families. Some of them will go to the temple and some will party all night! My mum will opt for the temple! We had to go to at least two to three temples to pray!
Some of you might know that Chinese New Year lasts for 15 days as long long ago, travelling to visit families can takes days in China. The 15 day period is to give people more time to visit their families and to give or receive their lucky red packets. So instead of 12 days of Christmas, we Chinese have 15 days of Chinese New Year.
For the first day, it is important not to sweep the floor or do cleaning as it will sweep away all the blessing from the Wealth God and good luck away. Same goes for washing clothes and anything else. Everyone takes a day off. You are not allowed to swear, curse or say bad words. Even if you accidentally break a plate for example, you have to bless it with good words to ensure good fortune for the year. Never wear black or any dark coloured clothes. The fortune teller will tell you which colour clothing is suitable for you to bring you luck for the year. The list can go on and on like don’t cut your nails, don’t wash your hair etc. That is why people tend to do the cleaning and pampering before the big day. You can’t lend or borrow money from anyone. It is considered bad luck. Visiting a hospital is also a no-no hence you will see lots of empty beds in hospital! At the end of the day, I think it is basically reminding you to be good.
So what traditions do you have on your New Year’s day?