Chinese New Year: Year of the Rabbit

While many of us have already given up on our New Year’s Resolutions, the Chinese New Year has just begun.  The Chinese New Year always coincides with the Lunar New Year and therefore it begins today with the new moon and it ends 15 days later with the full moon.  Chinese New Year is a joyous celebration rich in traditions, folklore and rituals.

It is exciting that 2011 is the Year of the Rabbit as I was also born in a Rabbit year (which is said to be the luckiest of all signs!)  Rabbits are talented, articulate, affectionate yet shy, and seek peace throughout their lives.  Unfortunately, Chinese Astrology is quite blunt in saying that as a Rabbit I am completely incompatible with my Rooster boyfriend.  It even goes so far as saying that we do not have fate’s blessing and it suggests that I find love elsewhere.  Hmm, I’m not sure how far to read into that…

The Dragon Dance in Singapore's Chinatown

Regardless, Chinese New Year always brings me back to the wonderful memories I have from the Chinese New Year I celebrated while living in Singapore.

I spent the Eve of the New Year with fellow exchange students exploring the Chinese Gardens, visiting the beautifully decorated and vibrant Chinatown to watch a dragon dance, and watching an amazing fireworks display light up the beautiful Singapore skyline.

By far the most special memories I have of Chinese New Year are when I joined my friend Shaozhen’s family in their celebrations.  Not only was I able to join her immediate family for an intimate Chinese New Year dinner where I got to taste traditional Chinese treats, but they also graciously invited me over again the following day to join in a larger Chinese New Year celebration with their extended family.  This was so much fun and an amazing way to learn about traditions and customs.

The two traditions that stood out to me the most were those of Hong Bao and Yusheng.

Hong Bao is an ancient Chinese custom that takes place on Chinese New Year.  It is a custom where married couples present children and unmarried adults with money in red envelopes.

Yusheng is a Teochew-style raw fish salad that is a symbol of abundance, prosperity and longevity.  It normally consists of 27 different vegetables, and I have to admit when I first saw their family members making the salad I was wondering how high they were going to continue to pile it.  Traditionally there are many types of shredded vegetables, raw fish, chopped peanuts, Chinese shrimp crackers, and plenty of spices and sauces.  Once all of the ingredients were piled onto the large plate, all of us dinner guests stood around the table and on cue everyone tosses the salad into the air using chopsticks while saying ‘auspicious wishes’ out loud.

Tossing the Yusheng

All in all, my Chinese New Year celebrations in Singapore were incredible and I will always cherish the memories.  I am forever grateful to Shaozhen and her family for taking me in and allowing me to join in with their Chinese New Year celebrations.  It was a wonderful experience.

Here are some more traditional Chinese New Year customs:

  • To prepare for the coming New Year, houses undergo a meticulous cleaning to remove the ill fortunes of last year, while being purified to welcome the good fortunes of the approaching year.
  • Red is a good luck colour.  Before the New Year it is customary to repaint your windows and doors red in thebelief that the colour red wards off evil spirits and bad omens
  • Family Reunion Dinners occur on New Year’s Eve.  That evening it is also customary to keep every single light in the house on during the night in the belief that it gives their parents a long and healthy life.
  • Bright red paper cut-outs and couplets with themes of happiness, wealth and longevity are hung throughout houses and decorate the streets.Tangerines and oranges are eaten as they symbolize wealth and happiness.
  • The Festival of Lanterns takes place on the evening of the 15th day of celebrations and marks the end of the Chinese New Year festivities.  This is celebrated with lantern displays, singing and dancing.

Wishing you a very happy and prosperous New Year!

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