An Expat’s Guide to Chinese New Year

Gong Xi Fa Cai

It’s almost Chinese New Year! On the 12th February, the Year of the Ox will begin. Hopefully it will be a lucky year for you and you enjoy your days off. What do you do over Lunar New Year? And how do you plan to spend it this year?

  Many expats (myself included) spend this time to relax, maybe go to the beach club, or hitting some bars at Haji Lane- but what about the local traditions? What could we take part in? What is the process?

Reunion Dinner

Similar to Christmas Day, on the Eve of CNY, people will gather with their immediate relatives, usually three generations, and catch up. Sometimes the matriarch of the family will cook their famous dishes. Single relatives are often berated with questions about their love life or when they’re getting married. Many who celebrate love the Reunion Dinner, as the food is normally the best, but some dread this day as it may feel like the Spanish Inquisition.

Chinese New Year

Normally people meet at one house, and the owner of the house is presented with two mandarin oranges. This is to signify good fortune and wealth. If you’re not married, the owner of the house normally gives you a red packet with money inside. If you are married, you are given good blessings. In Singapore, people will normally visit their older relatives’ houses. If you’re the oldest, you’re the host. The house will already be full of food and CNY snacks. Depending on how big the family is, there could be multiple visits.

Next up will be the Yu Sheng; the Prosperity Toss. This is a Cantonese-Style raw fish salad. The raw fish, normally salmon, is mixed with vegetables and sauces. Each ingredient represents something to do with good fortune. The Yu Sheng is tossed into the air with chopsticks; the higher the toss the more likely your wish will come true. So be prepared for some high-flying vegetables! Many people will shout their wishes out loud and is an integral part of CNY. If you’ve had a bad 2020, this could be a good start to your 2021.

 It is believed that what you eat is coming your way that year.

The night is normally the fun part. This is when friends will gather and secretly gamble and play games. After eating, chilling and watching shows together, locals will often play Blackjack, Mahjong, In Between, 3 Kings or Bacarat. Those who do not want to gamble can still sit and join in with the tradition; watching others gamble with their Ang Bao money. If your luck is good for the new year, you can win yourself some extra cash.

A Day To Relax

For all those relatives that weren’t visited on the first two days, they will be visited on the third day. Still expect some snacks, but the best food has already passed. Others who don’t have such big families, will just spend this time to chill.

You could use this time to visit Chinatown, maybe you may even catch some fireworks.

  Chinese New Year is one of the biggest and most important festivals to many in Singapore. It’s something that we may not experience in our home countries. Instead of the usual this year, why not spend time with your local friends and colleagues and try and immerse yourself in this local tradition? You may try some food you’ve never eaten before; learn a new game or just see a point of view that you never normally would.

What’s your favourite Lunar New Year tradition?

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