Friday, 16 February 2018

Happy Chinese New Year - Gong Xi Fai Cai - from Singapore

Today is the start of the Chinese New Year. Here in Singapore, it is marked with a two day national holiday. It's being celebrated by the majority of the population as the Chinese account for 76% of the inhabitants in this multicultural city-state.
The date of the Chinese New Year is determined by the Chinese calendar which, in turn, is based upon the movements of the moon. As a rule of thumb, Chinese New Year falls on the day of the new moon closest to the start of spring. This year, it falls on the 16th February.
 The Chinese New Year celebrations will last for the whole lunar cycle of 15 days. During that time the Chinese will celebrate with music, dancing, special foods, displays, reunions with family and friends and ‘red packets’.  
I asked one of our friends, Gennet Song, how she celebrates Chinese New Year.

Gennet Song, Company Director of The Light Goes On

Symbolism is very important in Chinese culture so for instance, if a word sounds auspicious or positive we will use it when we want to celebrate. That's why you can see pineapple decorations on our gate.

Prosperity Gate

 The pineapple is very traditional because pineapple in Chinese is Ong Lai which means, 'luck will come our way.' We believe that the pineapple therefore welcomes good health, fortune and prosperity. You’ll see a lot of us Chinese buying real pineapples and displaying them in our homes during Chinese New Year. 
The same applies to the tangerine decoration. That is Kum in Chinese which means gold. So this decoration symbolises that we are welcoming in gold or wealth. Put together, these decorations create a prosperity gate as we are welcoming more prosperity into our lives.

 Front porch decorated with flowers and blossoms for Chinese New Year

The front door is very significant for us. It is where, in Feng Shui, the energy flows into the house, so beside the front door we’ve placed a Cockscomb. It is a very traditional Chinese plant which is considered to be auspicious because it resembles a rooster’s comb and roosters are thought to be lucky. We also have an Orchid. Orchids are very Singaporean and ours signifies colour and vibrancy in our lives. Above the door are blossoms because the lunar new year is like spring for us, so blossoms will be displayed everywhere.

Wheelock Place Shopping Mall displaying blossoms for Chinese New Year

All the decorations inside the house remind us of celebration and what we want to welcome. Everything that you see has a Chinese meaning or sound that is related to luck, wealth, health and the encouragement of good things into our lives.
We try to use as many live plants as possible so we have this Satsuma tree to signify Kum. You will see these fruits in huge displays everywhere.

Satsuma tree which is inviting gold and wealth into the home

Kum displayed outside the St Regis Hotel Tanglin

Jacq and I are in the business of health and wellness and we use essential oils. We are Young Living independent distributors and for this season our favourite oils are Abundance, Highest Potential, Joy and Orange. So I will diffuse these into the sitting room to create an uplifting atmosphere of abundance, opportunities, prosperity and happiness. I would also put them in little bottles in the bathroom so guests could use them as perfume.

Diffusing essential oils to create an auspicious atmosphere

Auspicious words and symbols are also used as decorations with words such as the ‘Fa Cai’ (Prosperity) Cat and Zhoa Cai, (to attract good luck) and Na Fu (to accept and keep the good fortune). 

 Chinese New Year version of a Christmas tree

 This plant is usually associated with wealth, so we would put ornaments or symbols on it just like a Christmas tree. This coming year is the year of the dog so I have decorated it with dog symbols.
 The Chinese New Year runs in a cycle and each year it moves onto a different sign of the Chinese Zodiac.  We have 12 signs, the rat, the ox, the tiger, the rabbit, the dragon, the snake, the horse, the sheep (goat), the monkey, the rooster, the pig and the dog. Each one has its own element too, like metal, wood, fire, earth or water. This year its earth, so 2018 is the year of the earth dog.
Some parents will try to delay or hasten the birth process so that a child is born in a year that they consider auspicious. As we’ve modernised, this has become less important but there are still baby booms in the year of the dragon because its one of the most powerful and lucky signs of the Zodiac.
Decorating the house is just one part of the preparation for Chinese New Year. You also have to have an annual spring clean and de-clutter. People really don’t like doing this but you want to make the house nice because there will be lots of people visiting you over the lunar New Year.
Traditionally, there is a order of visits and on the first day you would visit the eldest person in the family. You would take at least two oranges with you for the host and there would be an exchange of oranges and good wishes.

Exchanging oranges and a greeting when you visit during Chinese New Year

Elders and married adults will usually give children and younger siblings/relatives an Ang Pao (red packet) for good luck. Inside would be some money. Parents will also refrain from reprimanding children during the Chinese New Year so as to create a harmonious year ahead.  Most kids will enjoy the New Year celebrations which will most likely be the rare occasion they get to binge on all sorts of sweets, cookies and tidbits.  They will also wear the new clothes bought specially for the occasion. We’d all share a celebratory meal together and then we’d leave and visit the next most senior person. They would welcome us with oranges and all sorts of Chinese New Year goodies and sweets.
In the old days, you would spend the whole 15 days of Chinese New Year visiting family and eating good food. You may even consult an Almanac to tell you the most and least auspicious days and times to visit. We don’t do that nowadays because we only have two days public holiday for Chinese New Year so we haven’t got time to wait for an auspicious time or day.
Visiting can be fun but it can also be very tiring because you can be going from one place to another from morning until night. It’s like boot camp. If you can, you would do all the visiting in one day but in big families that’s quite impossible. Remember that in the lead up to Chinese New Year, people can be working flat out because you need to get cookies for people that come, oranges, drinks for visitors, auspicious fruits and food. You need to buy new clothes for the kids and for yourself. You have to spring clean and de-clutter the house, replace anything that is broken and after that you need to go visiting.
Chinese New Year is a time of families to come together but even before then, we will have Reunion Dinners.
A reunion dinner is traditionally meant to bring all the family, whereever they are, to one place to celebrate together. At the meal we’ll eat our favourite food and symbolically lucky dishes. Traditionally, there is only one reunion dinner, but us Singaporeans love to eat so instead of one, we will gather together for a reunion dinner, a reunion lunch, or a reunion tea with friends.
We will also celebrate with a Yu Sheng, a raw fish salad that we toss together as we welcome the New Year and wish for all the good things to come.  The higher you toss the salad the better because the higher you go, the more prosperity there will be. We sometimes refer to this as Loh Hei.

Richard gets stuck into a Loh Hei.

The Chinese New Year celebrations get started on New Year’s Eve when there are fireworks, Chinese firecrackers, gongs, cymbals, drums, lots of noise to frighten away evil spirits and clear space for the New Year to enter."

Thank you Gennet for contributing to the first blog of the Chinese New Year.
All that remains for me to do is to wish you Gong Xi Fai Cai, health, wealth and prosperity for 2018.
I will be back on 5th March with an update on how we are settling in and a sneek peek of the blogs I've got planned for the next few months.
Until then, if you can pop into the shops for a copy of the March edition of Sussex Life which is featuring William Earl and I and Blood and Bandages.
Thanks for dropping by and see you on 5th March. 

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