Chinese New Year, also known as the Lunar New Year or the Spring Festival, is undoubtedly the most important date in the Chinese calendar and quite possibly the most significant holiday in Singapore.
The mood in Singapore is festive and there is a lot going on with extravagant processions, colourful lanterns, energetic lion dancing and loud firecrackers and massive fireworks displays. People are on the streets shopping for presents, chatting to one another over slices of mandarin oranges for good luck or feasting on special dishes.
The holiday is based on the lunisolar Chinese calendar and coincides with the first new moon between 21 January and 20 February which in 2017 will be on the 28 January. The build up is colourful and starts three weeks before Chinese New Year and festivities continue until the Chingay festival on the 12 February.
Symbols and decorations
It is a very colourful time in Singapore, but there is no stronger colour than red. Children are gifted money in little red envelopes and family and friends gift each other. The envelopes are called angbaos or ang paos. The couture of the season is bright red. You'll see it on homes and shops where people will decorate their doors and windows. In Chinese folklore, there was a mythical beast called Nien. He used to attack villages each spring and the only thing that scared him off was the colour red and loud noises.
Apart from red, there are many symbols you will see throughout the streets. The bright pink flowers of the plum blossoms are popular and represent courage and endurance. The plum, along with the orchid (purity), chrysanthemum (humility) and bamboo (uprightness), constitutes the four noble truths, the essence of Buddha's teachings.
We are entering the year of the Rooster, so expect to see a lot of motifs around this clucky character. As part of the street display "Street Light Up" on New Bridge Road and Eu Tong Sen Street, there is a large handmade lantern of a rooster. People are thought to have the traits of the animals representing their year. In the case of the rooster, nature's alarm clock, people born this year will have fidelity and punctuality.
You will see a lot of red paper-cuts decorating windows or be being given as gifts. In traditional culture, paper-cuts reflect many aspects of life such as prosperity, health or harvest. During the Spring Festival, the character Fu 福 is often displayed upside down on doors to express people's wish for the coming of happiness. Often paper-cuts display flowers of luck or the zodiac animals and they always symbolise luck and happiness and they are cleverly crafted from one single piece of paper without and gluing or folding.
Home and family are at the heart of the holiday. Most people in Singapore will host a large "Reunion Dinner" with their family and relatives. It is traditionally a "steamboat" dinner where a large pot is placed in the centre of the table, one then places thin sliced meats, dumplings, vegetables and fish into the simmering broth to watch it cook before their eyes. The following days are reserved for visiting family and conveying blessings of good fortune to those closest to you.
Sweeping dirt out of one's home is thought to be a lucky activity, but you won't see people sweeping once the New Year has arrived. You wouldn't want to sweep out any of that newly arrived good fortune now would you? In a similar vein, you wouldn't get your hair cut on Chinese New Year. In Chinese, the world for hair sounds similar to the word for luck and cutting it off might mean losing your luck.
There are many events and activities surrounding Chinese New Year that occur both before and after the actual date.
There is the Festive Street Bazaar taking place in many streets in Chinatown every night from 6 pm until Chinese New Year. Peruse the wide variety of stalls that line the streets with gifts of good luck and happiness.
There are handmade sculptured lanterns along Eu Tong Sen Street, New Bridge Road and South Bridge Road for the Street Light Up. From 7 pm daily until 27 February.
There are Nightly Stage Shows at Kreta Ayer Square where you will be entertained by Chinese cultural performances, festive songs, dance and music show. 8 pm - 10:30 pm daily until Chinese New Year.
On the eve of the New Year, the 27th, there is a giant Countdown Party on New Bridge Road and Eu Tong Sen Street from 9:30 pm until just after midnight. There will be live music, firecrackers and a spectacular display of fireworks.
In addition to Chinatown, the Esplanade Waterfront Promenade becomes host to a number of exciting events as well. Huayi - The Chinese Festival of Arts is a ten-day long event where you will be treated to a visual feast. Taking place from 3 – 12 February 2017 it will feature theatre, dance, music, visual arts and more.
The River Hongbao is considered by many Singaporeans as one of the highlights of Chinese New Year. It is hosted right on the water, at the Marina Bay Floating Platform, just of the Esplanade Waterfront Promenade between the 26 January and 4 February from 2 pm until 11 pm (extended for New Year's Eve until 1 am). There are local and international acts, such as acrobatics and stage performances. It has a carnival atmosphere with dodgem cars and teacup rides.
The culmination of the entire festival surrounding Chinese New Year culminates with the undisputed main public event in Singapore, the Chingay Parade. It takes place on 12 February 2017. It is a street parade with a carnivalesque atmosphere with a long series of floats. Traditionally the floats themselves display signs of the zodiac and the Chinese God of good fortune, but these days you could see anything from fire-eaters and magicians to cultural dances and acrobats.
As the premier event in the Chinese calendar, it won't go unnoticed on your travel to Singapore. If you want to get the most out of the celebrations it will benefit you to make sure you look at your schedule to know what is happening where and when. Why not consider taking a private photography tour with Aperture Tours to make sure you can navigate the myriad of events with a local photographer who can take you to the best places across Singapore to enjoy this event and help you get the right shots to come away with some beautiful Chinese New Year's images.
Author : Alexander J.E. Bradley
Alexander is the founder of Aperture Tours which run photography tours in the most photogenic cities across the globe. A professional photographer for over a decade, Alexander enjoys shooting the surreal by mixing dreamlike qualities into his conceptual images.
Photographer : Likhitha (Anya) Muralikrishna
Anya is the lead photographer for our Singapore Photography Tours. Dreamer. Star gazer. All about the visuals. Coming from a fashion and fine art background, Anya's photography is an extension of her subconscious.