Chinese New Year (Year of the Monkey)
Chinese New Year which is also known as Lunar New Year is the most important Chinese holiday. It is celebrated on second new moon after winter solstice. This year, Chinese New Year falls on 8th Feb 2016, the year of the Monkey. Each of these years are marked by the characteristics of one of the 12 zodiac animals. Historically it also marked the beginning of the new harvest.
Legendary Tale: According to an old legend, there was a mythical beast Nian, who had a body of bull and head of lion. Towards the end of winter, when there was nothing to eat, Nian would show up to the villages and trouble and attack the villagers. Villagers put food in front of their doors during the new year to protect themselves from Nian. Soon they learnt that the beast was afraid of three things: red color, fire and noise. So when the New Year came, the villagers hung red scrolls and lanterns outside their doors. They used firecrackers to scare away the beast. Thus they freed themselves from the wrath of Nian. This soon became a tradition on Chinese New Year.
I decided to soak myself into this tradition by visiting China Town a day before Chinese New Year. The festival is celebrated for 15 days. China Town was dripping into the color of red. Beautiful lanterns on display, mandarins (symbolizing wealth), paper cuts and scrolls symbolizing different themes of wealth, longevity, fortune and good luck hung across various stalls.
You find people buying mandarin oranges which is considered similar to gold and believed to bring prosperity. You also find Pomelo fruits on the stalls which symbolizes health , fertility and family unity. The hawkers also sells melon seeds (symbolizes to have lots of children).
People sweep and clean their homes before the new year starts. They don’t sweep their homes on the day of new year as it is believed that it may ward off good luck. They wear new clothes and say “gong xi” to wish each other good luck and happiness in the new year. The younger generation visit their elders and wish them health and longevity. They give red packets known as Ang Pao to children, elders and relatives. Its a monetary gift given in a red envelope symbolizing good luck. The money shouldn’t add up to number 4 as it represents death in Chinese. When I came to know about Ang Pao and cultures and traditions followed during Chinese new year, I realized how much this is similar to the traditional festival Vishu celebrated in Kerala, India. Vishu heralds the beginning of Malayalam New Year. It is also considered as harvest festival. Just like how red, orange colors are auspicious in Chinese New Year, during Vishu people buy fruits, flowers which are golden in color like banana, mango, lemon, oranges and so on. The basic essence of it representing gold which is considered the most auspicious. On Vishu day, children and younger generation dressed in new clothes receive Vishukkaineetam from the elders which is essentially monetary gift. It is fascinating to see how these seemingly different cultures have so much in common!
It was impossible to walk in a relaxed fashion in China Town. The place was crowded. People walked and stopped at each and every food stall tasting their sample candies, melon seeds, pineapple tarts, dumplings, sticky rice cakes, dry fruits and lots of other sweets. Yu Sheng is another popular dish during this time. Its a raw fish salad with shredded green radish which symbolizes wealth/abundance and eternal youth. One of the most sought after dish which I found was Bakkwa. Bee Cheng Hiang is famous for their Bak kwa. Bak Kwa is a salty sweet barbecued pork jerky. Its deep red color is considered to be auspicious and ward of negative energies. People poured into the shop to buy kilos of Bak Kwa. I decided to taste few samples of these although I detest pork.
Honestly, I didn’t like it. It was a wise decision to taste the samples first.
The streets were lighted with huge lanterns, monkeys dangling on the ropes and trees. Beautiful decorations near Eu Tong Sen Street and New Bridge Road. The sight was splendid and beautiful during the night.
There was also a wishing tree at China Town Point Mall. The wishing tree is inspired by the renowned ancient banyan tree in Lam Tsuen in Hong Kong. Pay 2$ and write a wish on the paper and hang it on the tree. It is believed that the higher you hang the paper on the branch, the more chances to get the wish fulfilled. All the proceeds will be donated to the Kreta Ayer Seniors Activity Centre.
They also had daily free performances in Kreta Ayer Square between 8 pm and 10:30 pm.
Chinese New Year Eve celebrations had stage shows and count down party. Lion dance performances were seen to welcome the VIP guests. The streets were closed down for the performances at night.
I enjoyed soaking into the atmosphere of walking into the streets of China Town rather than watching the performances. The dazzling street lights, hurried walks of locals busy shopping, hawkers shouting at top of their voices, unending stream of visitors made the entire area electrifying. As the year of the Monkey dawns, I look forward to more enriching experiences in Singapore!
Copyright ©2016, Lakshmi Nair . This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.