While I really love Chinese New Year (CNY) celebrations, I only celebrate CNY if I am back in Singapore during that period of time. But now that we have a kid, there’s this urge in me to start celebrating CNY in Canada with hubby and kid. Maybe it’s a maternal thing. Maybe I hope he doesn’t forget his Singapore roots. Either way, it feels so important to me now to start recreating certain CNY traditions for my own family.
So for the very first time since I moved to Canada, we are gonna host a CNY Party and invite our friends over. Needless to say, both hubby and me want to make sure we incorporate CNY stuff and food at this party. But really, ny hubby has never celebrated CNY so how would he know? He will probably say he knows but really, he wants to bake Toblerone Shortbread Cookies for CNY hmmmmmm….Ya, he doesn’t know CNY but hey, it’s the love & effort that counts 😀 and I do love that he is for us trying to integrate CNY into our family so LOVE YOU DADDY
With limited ingredients here, we can’t recreate everything but we will recreate selectively lol. So I thought what better way to start than to write up a Beginner Guide to CNY in Singapore 😀
THE MONTH BEFORE CHINESE NEW YEAR
1. SPRING CLEANING
What this step essentially means is to usher in the new year with a clean slate in life, giving you the opportunity to prosper in the new year.
- Major Cleaning before CNY 1st day – symbolizes a fresh start & sweeping away all the bad luck for last year out the door
- Decorate the house with CNY decorations
- No cleaning especially on the first day of CNY – symbolizes sweeping away all your new and good vibes/luck out the door so NO CLEANING on 1st day.
- If you owe anyone money, try to repay them before the first day of CNY. What it symbolizes is that if you went into the new year owing people money, then you will always be owing people money in the new year. Clearing that debt will symbolizes good money luck in the year ahead. To us, this is also a form of cleaning.
- We also use this time to pay our respects and worship our deities either at home at at the temple. One prays to different deities for different wishes. You pray to God of Wealth for obviously more wealth, to Kitchen God who has witnessed and recorded your family dynamics for the last year ready to go back to Heaven to report your good and misdeeds to Heaven. There are many other gods.
2. RED PACKET MONEY ( KNOWN AS 紅包 OR HONGBAO)
- During CNY, it is our tradition for the married people to give Red Packet to unmarried guests as well as seniors and the elderly at home. These are filled with money and symbolize good fortune and luck for the new year. So basically, every married couple including us will give Ryan a Red Packet and me & Darren will give my Mom (the senior in the home) a Red Packet.
- Amounts usually differ depending on how close the relationship is and hierarchy. Fear Not if you are clueless about this. Of course, there is a short dummy guide published yearly on amount rules 😀 . You can have a quick read at here.
- One should only use new dollars and the amount should always be in even numbers but never the number 4. So no odd amount like $7.00 but also never use the even number 4. Number 4 in Chinese sounds like death so never give $4.00, $44.00, $24.00. While other even numbers are acceptable, we love the number 8. 8 is considered a very auspicious number.
- Go to bank to obtain new or good as new dollar notes for the Red Packets. While most Singaporeans use online banking, this is the time of the year where the banks will be filled with customers coming in to withdraw new dollar notes. You can even reserve your new notes online 😀 .
- For recipients of the Red Packet, make sure you wear bright colored clothing. Always bring 2 mandarin oranges when visiting during CNY and as soon as you enter someone home, offer the oranges to the family and say a auspicious greeting. If in doubt, just offer with both hands and say “Happy Chinese New Year”. The family says thanks, receives your oranges and gives you a Red Packet. NEVER open your Red Packet until you get home. It is just rude.
3. BUY NEW CLOTHES
- New clothes preferably in Red or auspicious colors for at least the first 3 days of CNY (By the way, CNY runs for 15 days but no, we dun get time off for all 15 days lol)
- In stricter households, most still would avoid white and black colors as those are associated with death. Kinda funny that in the western world, white is considered a wedding beautiful color whereas it is associated as death or funeral in Asian cultures.
- It’s not so strict in my family so we can wear any colors but i would still suggest leaving your goth makeup at home 😀
- Some would even buy new bed sheets to usher in the new year as well. Not sure if my mom ever did. Have to remember to ask her.
4. PREPARE CHINESE NEW YEAR FOODS
- There is a lot of playing with words in Chinese New Year traditions so preparing foods that translate to auspicious meanings is important. In my family, I don’t think we observe it that strictly but some families still do. Example: Long Noodles symbolize long life, Fish symbolize being blessed every year, mandarin oranges symbolize abundance & prosperity, Glutinous Rice Cakes symbolize great improvement in study and work, Pineapple Tarts symbolize ushering a sweet & prospering life, Sweet Rice Balls for family harmony, Spring Rolls symbolize wealth & etc. The list goes on and on.
- Prepare food for the Reunion Dinner which is on the last night before Chinese New Year. I love love love Reunion Dinner. It’s a Must in my family, I grew up having Hot Pot for our Reunion Dinner and I miss it soooo much. Wish we could be there this Chinese New Year :(. Oh well, such is Life but at least, we would be doing our own mini celebration in Canada
CHINESE NEW YEAR EVE
1. REUNION DINNER
- As the name depicts, it really is a gathering of the family members for a sit down meal. Traditionally, Reunion dinner always happens on CNY Eve but nowadays, some families choose to do their dinner earlier. Reunion dinner has to be the favorite part of CNY for me personally 😀
- The format of the meal depends on the family but growing up, we always had Steam Boat or Hot Pot for Reunion Dinner.
- I just ordered a Hot Pot from Amazon.ca . Hope it arrives in time for our 2020 CNY Party
2. COUNTING DOWN TO NEW YEAR
- Once Reunion Dinner is over, some people would go to Chinatown to usher in the New Year and join the locals in various celebrations, street performances, night markets in counting down. Be warned. It is a sea of people packed together but if you want to feel the CNY atmosphere, this is the best way to.
- Expect plenty of loud celebrations when you are out and about. If you hate crowds, people and loud noises, do yourself a favor and just stay home
- For Lazy people like me, we count down at home with our full bellies and reminisce about the family and the last year.
DURING CHINESE NEW YEAR
1. VISITING, VISITING & MORE VISITING
- While CNY last for 15 days, the statutory holidays only cover first 2 days of CNY so we do a lot of visiting of and with families and friends during these two days. Growing up, it’s not uncommon for my family to be out visiting 3 to 4 families within a day. It’s pretty hectic and so no, you can’t be staying at one place for that long
- As a single, I would receive Red Packets but sigh now that I am married, I am the giver lol
2. LO HEI (PROSPERITY TOSS)
- Best way I can describe a Prosperity Toss is the tossing of a very colorful salad with sashimi and every ingredient in this salad has a auspicious meaning
- It is really quite hard for me to describe how we do the Prosperity Toss but check out this quick YouTube Video and it gives you a good idea of how that looks like
- If you prefer a short step by step guide, check out this article on LadyIronChef.com on How To Lo Hei Like a Boss 😀
- Traditionally, people do this on the 7th day of CNY but nowadays, people do it on any day of the 15 days of CNY
- I really would like to incorporate LO HEI in our CNY Party but not sure how to with limited ingredients.
3. WATCH YOUR LANGUAGE
- Ermmmmm not that I always have the best language but for us, swearing, scolding and talking negatively or behind other backs during CNY is like the worst thing you can do to yourself. We believe that how we chose to behave during CNY sets the tone and fortune for the year to come. Well, obviously, we should strive to better people anyway not just during CNY but throughout the year but it definitely will get you disapproving looks if you did that during CNY
Bear in mind that CNY celebrations might differ slightly in different countries, the whole idea is that CNY is a time of family togetherness, joy, abundance and prosperity and is the time to get all your family together, pay respects to your deities and gods and usher in the new year with good fortune and luck.
I hope you enjoy this beginner guide and that gives you a better idea of my culture 😀 Now I better get started on my CNY Baking