Lion dances, fireworks and non-stop feasting – Chinese New Year is one of Singapore's largest cultural holidays. The celebrations occur at the start of a lunar cycle and mark the beginning of spring (hence why it's sometimes called Spring Festival). Depending on the year, this 15-day festival kicks off sometime between 20 January and 20 February. This little guide will come in handy to know what to wear, what to say and what to do (or not) this Chinese New Year.
What to do ...
Wish everyone a Happy New Year (in Chinese)
You don't need to be fluent in Mandarin to connect with locals during Chinese New Year. Just like Christmas and New Year's Eve, you'll fit in by wishing everyone happiness and prosperity with a heartfelt "gong xi fa cai" (pronounced "gong she fa tsai").
Wear red, one of the most auspicious colours in Chinese culture
According to legend, Nian ("year" in English) was a monster that terrorised villagers on the first day of spring. To appease Nian, food was offered, people wore red and everyone made a lot of noise, banging pots and pans and setting off firecrackers. To this day, red symbolises good luck, happiness and prosperity.
Spring-clean your home before the big day
Usher in the new year by giving your house or apartment a good scrub-down. Deep cleaning the house symbolises a brand new start and invites good fortune – as long as you do it before the festival. Legend says you'll sweep or wash away good luck if you clean anything on the first two days of the lunar new year.
Decorate your doorway with New Year poetry
Get creative by hanging red lanterns and tacking up couplets with auspicious greetings for more good luck. These poetic lines are thought to ward off evil and invite in luck and prosperity. While traditional couplets are created with ink and a brush, in a pinch you can also pick them up at your local grocers.
Bring symbolic treats when visiting
Mandarin oranges are a great gift to give any time of the year, but especially during the festival. That's because the Chinese word for mandarin, ju (桔), sounds like the word for gold, ji (吉). So your simple fruit basket now contains a wish for your host's prosperity in the new year.
What not to do ...
Wear black, white or torn clothing
This is a big no-no. Black, white and navy are usually associated with death and mourning, and wearing torn clothing could mean a future of poor fortune. Go bright, bold and red, and make sure your clothes are all brand new to make a "fresh start" in the new year.
Give clocks or sharp objects as gifts
Never give anyone items with sharp ends as they symbolise bad luck. For example, a knife or scissors symbolises the end of a relationship.
The act of giving a clock, meanwhile, means to "attend a funeral ritual" in Mandarin, so it's considered a major taboo to do this in Chinese culture.
Bring cut flowers as a gift
Like dark clothing, cut flowers are associated with funerals, so save your bouquet for any other day of the year. However, white flowers and yellow chrysanthemums should always be avoided because they traditionally represent death. Not a good way to start your Chinese New Year.
Now that you've learned the dos and don'ts for this amazing time of year, you can relax and soak up the experience. Don't forget to join in the festivities and have loads of fun during Chinese New Year. Gong xi fa cai!