Just like Korea, Singapore also celebrates the Lunar New Year. In Korea it is known as ‘seollal’ or 섵날, while in Singapore it is known as ‘Spring Festival’ or ‘Chinese New Year’. Even though the holiday is celebrated on the same day, the practices and traditions are very different in Singapore and in Korea. In this article, I would like to introduce to foreign readers how we celebrate the Lunar New Year in Singapore.
1. Reunion dinner
As our ancestors are mainly from China, most of our traditions are similar to that of China. One Chinese tradition that we have during Lunar New Year, is to gather as a family on the eve of Lunar New Year to have a reunion dinner together. Family members who might be living or working overseas will try their best to come back to Singapore during this time to join the family for a reunion dinner. The food that is served during the reunion dinner varies, and it does not necessarily have to be Chinese cuisine. I do know of some friends who even have Western food for reunion dinner. What is most important is the quality time that is spent together with family members.
2. Lunar New Year goodies and snacks
In Korea, there are some typical food that Koreans will eat during seollal, and one of which is ‘tteokguk’, which is rice cake soup. In Singapore, we do also have some Lunar New Year goodies and snacks that are typically eaten during this festive season.
One of such food is known as ‘bak kwa’.
This is made from marinated pork, that is barbecued over charcoal and is served in cut, thin sheets. During the preparation before Lunar New Year, snaking queues will form outside well-known ‘bak kwa’ shops as early as in the wee hours of the morning. It is also usual to queue up for hours just to get your hands on this delicious snack before the New Year. One local brand of ‘bak kwa’, Bee Cheng Hiang even has branches in Gangnam in Seoul. To suit local flavours, there are also some modifications done to traditional ‘bak kwa’. Some newer flavours of ‘bak kwa’ has chilli in them, and even cheese too!
Another snack that we usually eat during Lunar New Year is pineapple tarts.
The pineapple tart can come in many shapes and size. This snack is made with pineapple jam and it is baked together with a buttery dough, and the combination between the two tastes so good! In my family, my mother starts baking pineapple tarts weeks before Lunar New Year and packs them into boxes to be given out to family and friends. Recently, I chanced upon newer and more exciting flavours of pineapple tarts and one such flavor that I have come across is ‘lychee mojito pineapple tart’.
Another food item that is commonly eaten during the Lunar New Year is ‘yusheng’.
Singaporeans are not really sure of the origin of this dish, but it is eaten at most dinners during the Lunar New Year. This is like a salad dish, with many types of vegetables in it, and it is also typically served with raw salmon slices, honey, cinnamon and pepper and crackers. Each of the ingredient that make up this dish has a special meaning in Mandarin, and these represent prosperity, fortune, wealth etc. If you do go to a Chinese restaurant to have this dish, the waiter or waitress will recite the meaning of each ingredient and he or she prepares the dish. When preparation of this dish is done, people seated around the table will use their chopsticks to toss the vegetables high into the air, to represent the fulfillment of their wishes for the coming year. Apparently, the higher you toss, the more likely your wishes are to come true!
These are just three examples of the many food, goodies and snacks that Singaporean people typically eat during the Lunar New Year, and there are of course, many many many more food that we eat during this festive period!
3. Wearing red or bright colour clothes
In Chinese tradition, the colour red represent good fortune and luck. During the Lunar New Year, one of the lucky colour to wear is red. Elders of the family always remind the younger children to wear red or bright colour clothes during the festive season so that good fortune will come to them. It is considered taboo to wear dull colours like black during Lunar New Year.
One of the activities that friends and family do when they gather from the Lunar New Year, is to gamble. Some games include poker, blackjack, or mahjong. When people gamble, they normally do it to have fun with their family and friends and spend some time having fun together.
Singapore is a multiracial society and it is not uncommon to see friends from different races celebrating the New Year with fellow Chinese friends and visit each other’s house. Even though Singapore is modernizing at a rapid rate, it is heartening to see that families and friends still take the time to celebrate the Lunar New Year together.
By Tan LiJia Gloria, ASEAN Correspondent from Singapore