Woman standing in Singapore
Jennifer Polland

Celebrating Chinese New Year in Singapore

Chinese people around the world gear up each year to celebrate Chunjie (the Spring Festival), commonly known as the Chinese New Year. Fantastic fireworks, parades, and traditional Chinese cultural performances take place around the world in honor of this holiday, but one country celebrates like nowhere else: Singapore.

This polyglot nation, whose population consists primarily of Chinese, Indian, and Malaysian ethnic groups, is unique in that the entire city-state combines and celebrates the cultural traditions of each of those ethnic groups. So, when it comes time to celebrate the Chinese New Year, the whole country -- not just the Chinese residents who make up about 75% of the population -- stops to celebrate. Over the years, Singaporeans have put their own stamp on the Chinese New Year festivities by mixing old and new traditions and integrating influences from other cultures. Experiencing the Chinese New Year celebrations in Singapore is a once-in-a-lifetime treat.
Market in Sinagpore's Chinatown
Jennifer Polland
Finding "Fu" in Chinatown
Singapore's Chinatown is constantly bustling, but it possesses an unmatched energy during the Chinese New Year, with its festive bazaars, New Year's treats (like pineapple tarts and nian gao, sweet and sticky rice cakes), interesting heritage sites, and performances by groups of traditional lion or dragon dancers. Shop for New Year goodies like hong bao, the red packets that parents give to children filled with money in even amounts (for luck) and anything inscribed with the character "fu," which means good luck -- these make excellent souvenirs. You'll find no shortage of other festive items to buy, but make sure to bargain hard here. For more information visit www.visitsingapore.com.
Selection of traditional dishes in Singapore
Jennifer Polland
Singaporean Chinese History 101
Stop in at the Chinatown Heritage Centre (tel. 65/6325-2878; www.chinatownheritagecentre.sg) to learn about the history of the Chinese population in Singapore. Located within three restored shophouses on Pagoda Street in Chinatown, the museum explores the lives of the early Chinese immigrants who settled the island. Their stories unfold through photos and historical artifacts, focusing on everything from the month-long journey they took on rickety junk boats to get here from China to the types of food they ate (pictured) and the clothing they wore. Replicas of the dark, cramped shophouse quarters where they lived give viewers a sense of what their daily lives were like. The museum is open Monday through Sunday from 9am-8pm. Check the website for admission rates and information.
three buddhist monks in singapore thian hock keng temple
Jennifer Polland
Pay Respect to Buddha
Walk into any Chinese temple during Chunjie, and you'll find people lighting incense, offering oranges or kumquats (symbols of wealth) to Buddha, or maybe even getting blessed by monks. Located in Singapore's Chinatown, the Thian Hock Keng Temple (tel. 65/6423-4616; www.thianhockkeng.com.sg), or the "Temple of Heavenly Bliss," is a Hokkien temple that dates back to 1821, making it one of the oldest Chinese houses of worship in Singapore. This temple will host Chinese New Year festivities through February 9th. Nearby, the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple & Museum (Pictured above; www.btrts.org.sg) is a Chinese cultural center that encompasses a museum, temple, reference library, theater, tea house, a dining hall that provides free vegetarian meals, and the sacred Buddha Tooth Relic for which it is named. Walk through this temple and marvel at the ornate architecture and the thousands of Buddhas that adorn the temple walls.
Yusheng, a traditional Chinese salad
Jennifer Polland
Yusheng: Flinging your Food for Luck
Yusheng is a traditional Chinese salad that is prepared only once a year, for the Chinese New Year. While the ingredients vary, it always consists of raw fish (like salmon or mackerel), shredded vegetables (like radish and cucumber), and a combination of sweet sauces and sesame oil. Each ingredient represents something significant, usually associated with luck and prosperity; for example, it is sometimes garnished with fried wontons, which represent gold. Lo hei is the action of eating yusheng: Diners simultaneously dip their chopsticks into the yusheng, mix it around, and fling its contents as high in the air as possible while wishing each other good luck for the New Year -- it can be quite messy, but also very entertaining. This sweet, cold salad is supposed to bring good luck to everyone who eats it. This dish is served as an appetizer at most Chinese restaurants in Singapore during the Chinese New Year. Hai Tien Lo (tel. 65/6826-8338; www.panpacific.com/singapore), a traditional Cantonese restaurant on the top floor of the Pan Pacific hotel, serves an authentic version of yusheng as well as excellent Chinese food.
Lanterns at Singapore's River Hongbao festival
Jennifer Polland
Greeting the God of Fortune
Singaporeans have been congregating at the River Hongbao (www.riverhongbao.sg) to celebrate the Chinese New Year since 1987. This boisterous festival lasts for 9 days. Here, you'll find numerous vendors selling different types of food and handicrafts, as well as nightly performances with traditional songs, dances, and costumes. There are also incredibly ornate lantern displays, with everything from rows of simple round, red hanging lanterns to a giant glowing God of Fortune; kids will especially love wandering through the illuminated lantern displays, such as Panda playground and Tiger Mountain. It is most stunning to visit at night, when all of the lanterns are glowing.
chingay parade, chinese new year, singapore
Jennifer Polland
A New Year Fantasy: The Chingay Parade
The Chingay Parade is a spectacular street and float parade that takes place each year in downtown Singapore to celebrate the Chinese New Year. The parade, which starts from the Pit Building and proceeds along the race track up to Republic Boulevard, is an extravagant celebration with traditional dragon and lion dancers, giant floats, multi-cultural performances, acrobatics, magic shows, colorful costumes and buoyant music, and flashy fireworks displays. This year, the parade will include samba parties, flying horses, and a pair of fire-cracker dragons. It is an over-the-top celebration, and you can stand along the route to view the parade for free.