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10 Time-Honored Chinese New Year Traditions Still Embraced in Singapore in 2024

By LingoAce SG Team |SG |February 3, 2024

Chinese Cultures
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As we move into 2024, many of the Chinese New Year traditions are fading in many modern and major cities around the world. However, in Singapore, our local traditions surrounding the Chinese New Year remains strong, heightened this year by the auspicious arrival of the Year of the Dragon.     This celestial occurrence adds an extra layer of significance to the festivities, symbolizing strength, prosperity, and good fortune. Join us as we embark on a journey to explore the 10 unique and expansive Chinese New Year traditions that both seasoned Singaporeans and new migrants joyously embrace here in Singapore.

1. Spring Cleaning for Good Fortune

A crucial tradition leading up to the Chinese New Year is the practice of spring cleaning. Singaporeans believe that thorough cleaning of homes helps get rid of bad luck in their lives. This meticulous cleaning includes decluttering, dusting, and organizing every corner of the house, creating a fresh and welcoming atmosphere for the arrival of the new year.

2. Buying Bak Kwa (Dried Meat)

Singaporeans have a special fondness for bak kwa (dried meat), a sentiment that intensifies during festive seasons. Bak kwa is often red in color due to the seasoning and cooking process. Red is an auspicious color in Chinese culture symbolizing good luck, happiness, and prosperity. Pork, the main ingredient in bak kwa, is also associated with prosperity and abundance in Chinese culture. Eating foods like pork during the Lunar New Year is believed to bring wealth and good fortune for the coming year.

It is a common practice to purchase or gift bak kwa during the Chinese New Year, with long queues forming outside renowned shops like Lim Chee Guan even before they open. The fragrant and glossy dried meat adds a touch of happiness to the Lunar New Year celebrations. 

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3. Browsing the New Year Market and Shopping for Festive Goods

As the Lunar New Year approaches, Chinatown's festive market in Singapore comes to life. It offers a variety of traditional items such as Chinese New Year pastries, dried goods, waxed meats, decorative items, couplets, and more. One indispensable treat during this season is the pineapple tart, a traditional Peranakan pastry distinct from Taiwan's pineapple cake, symbolizing prosperity and good luck.

4. Annual Reunion Dinner for Family Unity

The pinnacle of Lunar New Year's Eve is the Reunion Dinner, where families gather for a feast symbolizing unity and prosperity. The meticulously crafted dishes, often with symbolic meanings, create an atmosphere of warmth and togetherness. It's a time to cherish familial bonds and share in the anticipation of the year ahead.

5. Exchanging Mandarin Oranges for Good Luck

In Singapore, the tradition of exchanging mandarin oranges symbolizes good luck and prosperity. Unlike elaborate gifts, two mandarin oranges suffice, carrying multiple auspicious meanings such as "great luck," "double gold," and "double happiness." Interestingly, when you bring mandarin oranges to someone's home to pay respect to someone that is your elder, they reciprocate the gesture, fostering mutual well-wishing.    This is also accompanied by Chinese New Year well-wishes and greetings such as 恭喜发财 (Gōng xǐ fā cái) - Wishing you prosperity, 万事如意 (Wànshì rúyì) - May all your wishes come true and more.

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6. Red Packet Giving

Following the exchanging of mandarin oranges and greetings, the giving of Red Packets, usually from the elders as part of well wishes. Unmarried individuals, regardless of age or gender, receive red packets (ang pao) from family and friends without the obligation to give them in return. This moment is particularly joyful for unmarried individuals, known colloquially as "single dogs." While the tradition has ancient roots in warding off evil spirits, in Singapore, there's a unique taboo: unmarried elders should not give red packets, as it is believed to hinder marriage prospects.

7. Lighting Incense Sticks for Blessings

Many Singaporean Chinese who practice Buddhism rush to temples on New Year's Eve to light incense sticks, seeking divine protection for themselves and their families in the coming year. The custom of lighting the first incense stick, known as "head incense," traces back to ancient China. Temples like Siong Lim Temple and Thian Hock Keng Temple witness vibrant activities on New Year's Eve, with devotees competing to insert the first incense stick for a year of good fortune.

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8. Lao Yu Sheng (Prosperity Toss) - The Raw Fish Salad Tradition

In Singapore, no Lunar New Year celebration is complete without "Lao Yu Sheng" or the prosperity toss. Originally performed on the seventh day of the new year, it has evolved to become a staple for any family or friends' gathering during the festive season. Participants gather around, using chopsticks to toss the raw fish salad high into the air and shout Chinese New Year well wishes, symbolizing a prosperous and successful year ahead.

9. Lion Dance Performances

While traditional lion and dragon dances have waned in popularity in China, they remain a prominent feature of Chinese New Year celebrations in Singapore. From the first day of the new year, businesses invite lion dance troupes to bring good fortune, attracting crowds of spectators. Children affectionately refer to the lion dance as "dong dong qiang." Read more about the in-depth traditions of the Lion Dance in Singapore here!

10. Admiring Festive Lanterns

During the Lunar New Year season in Singapore, the streets come alive with vibrant decorations like "Spring by the Riverside." In addition to traditional Chinese zodiac-themed lanterns, you'll find displays featuring the God of Wealth, various animal lanterns representing the zodiac signs, and other festive decorations. Alongside these visual delights, numerous events such as performances, lantern riddles, and amusement rides add a touch of festivity to the celebrations. 

After learning about these 10 undying Chinese New Year traditions in Singapore, we hope that you have learned something new and have a deeper appreciation of our new year this 2024!    From the symbolic act of spring cleaning, clearing the path for auspicious beginnings, to the sizzling aroma of bak kwa that fills the air, each tradition carries a unique significance. Exchanging mandarin oranges, embracing the joy of red packet giving, and partaking in the energetic lion dance performances all contribute to the tapestry of shared moments and well-wishing. 

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