Five top things that Singaporeans do during Chinese New Year

Chinatown singapore horse year
Chinatown in Singapore welcoming the year of the horse. With credits: TodayOnline/ Kreta Ayer-Kim Seng Citizens’ Consultative Committee

If you’re a visitor to Singapore these couple of days, you’ll find the streets of our very own Chinatown laden with people. As red lanterns brighten up the night sky, prepared to be bombarded by sellers offering you all types of jelly, nuts and mushrooms for tasting. A trek to the MRT station will take you five to ten minutes longer than what you would normally do.

So if you’re curious, I have listed the top five things that Singaporeans do during Chinese New Year.

Pineapple tarts Chinese new year singapore
Pineapple tarts – yum!

1. Eat, eat and eat

In Singapore, there’s nothing short of good food to indulge in. When it comes to snacks, bak kwa (barbequed meat) and pineapple tarts are my favourites. There is also crispy prawn rolls which taste so good and go just so well with beer.

Apart from snacks, most Chinese Singaporeans gather together on the evening before Chinese New Year for dinner. It’s usually steamboat (hot pot), it some cases pen cai, or just a variety of dishes.

Depending on the family, some may choose to dine out at restaurants or do the cooking themselves. I’m a big fan of home cooked food, though it can be quite an effort, especially if you’re working during the first half of the day, and there’s a family of 12 to be fed.

Lim Chee Guan Bak Kwa singapore
Delicious Lim Chee Guan Bak Kwa

2. Make small talk/ Indulge in gossip

There’s a strange thing about Chinese New Year visiting which involves saying hi to distant relatives that you would only see once in a year. I’ve always questioned the sense in that.

Conversation topics range from the following. (As a result, the skilled Singaporean has armed him/herself with a reflective shield to dodge potentially unnerving questions that can be a little, too personal, coming from relatives you meet only once a year.)

  • What do you work as? (Can be quite annoying if you are not working. People will ask why, cannot be too fussy, better find a job soon!)
  • Are you attached?
  • If yes: Wah (Wow) so good. How long have you been dating? Any plans to get a house yet? Housing in Singapore so expensive nowadays. Better to get one soon.
  • If no: Need me to help to introduce? <<John (the son) was telling me about this eligible colleague of his>>
  • I have learnt that the easiest way is to direct the question back at his/her kids. Wow! John seems to be doing very well in his job and love life, waiting to receive the wedding invitation card from him soon ah!
mahjong playing
Having fun with Mahjong! With credits:

3. Play Mahjong, blackjack or a game that involves money

Chinese are gamblers by nature. For some reason, we like to put our hard-earned money in the hands of fate, (and some, skill) to try and reap more than what we have put in.

My favourite is Mahjong, because there is some skill and memory work involved. (It has been scientifically proven that Mahjong prevents dementia).  Anyway the lovely thing about Mahjong is that your can combine points 3 and 4 together, and it it’s a sure way to kill time. Eras could have gone by and Mahjong only ends when 1) Someone runs out of money 2) Fatigue – which can be solved by coffee and 3) Fatigue which cannot be solved by coffee.

God of gamblers movie
God of Gamblers movie poster With credits:

4. Watch super old school Chinese Movies on TV

I’m a big fan of these. They screen on Singapore’s free to air TV and you get all sorts of hit flicks like Wong Kar Wai movies. My favourite are Infernal Affairs, God of Gamblers and Breaking News. These usually have happy endings with the male and female lead getting together.

Angbao collection in Singapore
Angbao collection – Singapore

5. Give, or receive angbaos

It’s a Chinese tradition for the married to give their unmarried relatives an angbao. There’s no fixed amount to it.

SGD50 – SGD100 for closer relatives, SGD4 – 10 for random people you (married couple) have never met before but suay suay (unfortunately) happen to bump into at relatives’ houses.

I’m not sure if these are very enticing descriptions of how  Singaporeans celebrate Chinese New Year. But if you’re new to Singapore, I suggest try getting yourself invited to a mahjong game at a friend’s house, or a nice steamboat in one of Singapore’s non-expat restaurants.

And if you’re a Singaporean, here’s on a post on why it is advisable not to travel during Chinese New Year.

When I was a student, it was much easier to meet with friends. Our timetables were flexible and we were always meeting up, for project work or just for dinner or a coffee at Starbucks.

After we started working, we just don’t have that flexibility to meet up that often, and that’s why Chinese New Year has become so important.

It’s the best time to meet up with my awesome friends again : )

Happy Chinese New Year!

P.S if you’re keen to find out how Malaysian’s celebrate Chinese New Year, check out my friend Yqtravelling’s post.