It has been fun to celebrate my first Chinese New Year in Singapore and learn some new traditions. Last year, I arrived in Singapore shortly after the CNY holiday and missed many of the festivities. This year, I have observed celebrations around the city, attended events at the office and at my social club, and read a bunch of articles to make sure I didn’t inadvertently make a cultural faux pas! This year, we were celebrating the beginning of the year of the rat, so there were tons of decorations everywhere with (cute) rats. It is also common to decorate the entrance to your home. You’re supposed to use red to banish the demons away.
A staple Chinese New Year event is called Lo Hei (literally “prosperity toss”). You and your friends gather to make and toss a salad. There is a particular order you place the ingredients into the dish, and each signifies something different. For example, carrot means good luck, cucumber means eternal youth and plum sauce means sweet and loving relationships. Once you have gathered all the ingredients, you each take a pair of chopsticks and toss it together. Your goal is to toss the ingredients as high as you can in the air – it gets a little messy. (Torontonians, this tradition is the inspiration for the Singapore Slaw at Lee.)
Other CNY traditions include the giving of Ang Pao, red packets filled with money typically given by married people to single people or children. Even though I’m not married, I gave out a few packets to people on my team. Eight is an auspicious number, so people often give amounts with a multiple of eight in them (i.e. $18, $28, or $88 if you’re really lucky!) This leads to a hilarious run on $2 new bills at the banks. In the office we also had a Lion Dance (to bless the space and bring good luck and fortune) and a small tea event featuring pineapple cookies (pineapple is a symbol of wealth and prosperity).
Wishing everyone back home a prosperous new year! Gong Xi Fa Cai!