Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Ushering in the Year of the Dog!!

To all my readers, Happy Chinese New Year!! Gong Xi Fa Cai!! (translation: may you have a prosperous New Year!). Today is the 13th day of the Chinese New Year celebration and in light of this special occasion, I shall dedicate one post to it :) So, how much do you know of this grand celebration? Let’s find out more...

What is Chinese New Year and how is it different from Western New Year?
Chinese New Year is the most significant festive celebration for the Chinese, one which is widely celebrated across Asia and even in the Chinese neighborhoods of some of the non-Asian countries! It is such an important event that in some parts of China, the celebration actually last for 15 days! (Woah!) Unlike the western New Year which falls on the first of January every year, the date for Chinese New Year (based on the Lunar Calendar) is different every year! This year, Chinese New Year falls on 16 February 2018 (Friday).  

Why do we call it the Year of the Dog?
The Dog is the eleventh animal in the 12-year Chinese zodiac cycle. The Chinese zodiac is made up of twelve signs and each of these signs are represented by an animal in the sequence rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. Unlike the western zodiac, the Chinese zodiac is not based on the monthly positions of the Sun and constellations but are instead based on the yearly Chinese Lunar Calendar (determined by the movement of the moon). Each of the twelve signs are repeated once every 12 years. According to the Chinese zodiac, year 2018 is the year of the Dog. 

The 11-meters tall centerpiece of a family of dogs in Chinatown, Singapore

What are some of the significant events that take place during Chinese New Year celebration?
In the weeks or even months leading up to the Chinese New Year celebration, the Chinese neighborhood in many countries would have been decorated with red paper cutting arts, red lanterns, red couplets and may even be lined up with makeshift stalls selling Chinese New Year snacks and decorative essentials. You might be wondering why are all the decorations in red? Well, legend has it that there was once a ferocious beast, Nian, that would terrorise villagers on New Year Day. However, it turns our that this beast Nian was actually afraid and eventually defeated by the color red. Since then, red was considered to bring good luck and fortune to all and hence became the popular color for Chinese New Year celebration!

Red lantern and flowers for Chinese New Year!

Around the same time when the street decorations are being put up, Chinese families would also start to get busy with house-keeping and shopping for the new year! To the Chinese, it is important to have a thorough cleaning of the house so as to drive the bad luck or the old things away from the house and get ready for a new start in the new year! Shopping for new year food and snacks, new year decorations and new year clothes are also being done concurrently. In this way, by Chinese New Year eve, the house would have been thoroughly cleaned and beautifully decorated. The tables in the house would also have been lined with the many delicious Chinese New Year goodies and stacked with Mandarin oranges - all ready to welcome visitors to the house!

As a start to the Chinese New Year celebration, Chinese families usually make it a point to have reunion dinner together on Chinese New Year eve. It would be the time where Chinese people from all over the world gather at one place and be reunited with the whole family and countdown to Chinese New Year as one.

Starting from day one of Chinese New Year, everyone in the Chinese family would don up in their new year clothes, hold two mandarin oranges in their hands and extend their new year greetings to each other. Parents would usually give their children red envelopes stuffed with "lucky money", as a way of extending their positive wishes for the new year. Families would go around visiting relatives and friends and extend their new year wishes to them. Married couples would be expected to give red envelopes to every children that they see on these visits to wish them well in the new year. Traditionally, a married daughter will pay a visit to her parents' house on the second day of Chinese New Year and on the third day of Chinese New Year, families usually visit the tombs of their ancestors. However, nowadays, many of these traditions are simplified and such arrangements are more flexible and may differ from families to families. During Chinese New Year celebration, lion and/or dragon dances are also seen going from houses to houses to perform and bless these houses with good luck.

The 15th day of Chinese New Year is the Lantern Festival and it marks the end of the Chinese New Year celebration. In some places, people may be seen send floating lanterns out onto rivers or lakes. 

Our Chinese New Year celebration experiences:
For my husband and I, as someone of Chinese origin, Chinese New Year holds a special place in our hearts. Being away in Europe has definitely strengthened our desire to join in the festive celebration as much as possible! We were rather fortunate to be able to join in and witness the Chinese New Year celebration on our recent trips to Singapore and Paris. Tho the celebration in these two countries differed slightly, it was still a heartwarming sight for us and we were extremely grateful to be part of something that feels so familiar and close to our hearts!

My husband and I made it a point to experience and immerse ourselves in this festive atmosphere during our recent trip to Singapore. We were there a week before Chinese New year and it was a joy to wander about on the streets of Chinatown, witnessing its transformation from a normal and quiet district into one that is lively and adorned with the iconic red Chinese New Year decorations. The streets of Chinatown were, by then, lined up with many makeshift stalls selling many beautiful Chinese New Year decorations, Chinese New year snacks, nuts, and jelly. We were even able to sample the delicious Chinese New Year goodies that the makeshift stall owners have generously handed out to us!

Walking along the streets of Chinatown, Singapore

Chinese New Year goodies...

..and more Chinese New Year snacks!!

Vendors selling Chinese New Year snacks and jelly

As it drew closer to Chinese New Year, the streets became busier and were filled with more people from all walks of life just soaking in this joyous atmosphere! The lively yet orderly streets of Chinatown became absolutely chaotic on Chinese New Year eve: the streets were packed with people, vendors shouting at the top of their lungs proclaiming the huge discounts they were offering for the Chinese New Year snacks and decorative items, people rushing in to do some last minute shopping, professional cameras coming out of no where to take in this chaotic yet interesting mess and tourists just trying to get back their bearings and recover from this culture shock. There were just so much going on in this district that it was hard to focus and process all that was going on! What a sight!

Red is the color for Chinese New Year!

After a chaotic night, on the first day of Chinese New Year the following morning, families are seen walking along the streets on their way to visit their relatives and friends. Most of the ladies were wearing the traditional Qi Pao (a body-hugging one piece Chinese dress) while the men either wore a formal shirt coupled with black pants or the modified Tang suit (a top with an upturned collar, straight lapels and traditional Chinese knots). Children can be seen holding small red bags to place their mandarin oranges as well as their red envelopes! During the first few days of Chinese New Year, most Chinese would have their meals at home as most Chinese restaurants or stalls in the hawker centre were closed, and the stalls that were opened were selling food at heavily marked-up prices. 

A perfectly calm Chinese New Year Day 1 in Chinatown, Singapore

We did however, get to take part in “Lo Hei”, a dining tradition practiced during the Chinese New Year period by Chinese living in Singapore and Malaysia. It involves tossing a dish (Yu Sheng) which comprised more than 10 ingredients, each symbolizing different well wishes for the new year. “Lo Hei” is usually done in a big group. The base ingredients (usually shredded vegetables) are first served on a plate. The elders amongst the diners or the restaurant server will then proceed to add the other ingredients while saying auspicious wishes as each ingredient is added. When all the ingredients have been added, all the diners at the table would then stand up and proceed to toss the shredded ingredients into the air with their chopsticks while shouting out various auspicious wishes. As it is believed that the higher the ingredients are tossed, the greater the growth in fortune, diners usually toss the ingredients with much enthusiasm and strength! Diners will then proceed to scoop some of the tossed ingredients into their plate and consume it as a starter dish. This “Lo Hei” tradition certainly makes the whole dining experience a lively and memorable one!

The Yu Sheng dish for "Lo Hei"

After a brief stay in Singapore, we flew back to Europe and was once again fortunate to be able to join in the fun at the Chinese New Year Parade in the 13th arrondissement of Paris! It was absolutely chaotic - people were everywhere and firecrackers were extensively used along the streets! Before the parade, there were several small groups of lion/dragon dance troupes as well as Chinese religious groups carrying the statue of Goddess Mazu calling in on the shops and restaurants lining the streets of Chinatown. Through performances and rituals, these groups extended their blessings and best wishes for the new year to the shop/restaurant owners. We were lucky enough to be dining in one restaurant where such visits took place and it certainly was an eye-opener to witness the whole process!

Chinese New Year performances in front of the restaurant that we dined in

After a quick lunch, we decided to head to the street where the parade was scheduled to take place. The various groups involved in the parade had by then, started to take their places and people were rushing onto the street to take photos of them and with them. There were the dragon dance troupes, Chinese folk dance team, religious statues, mascots, troupes don with the traditional Chinese costumes and a person dressed as Cai Shen Ye (Chinese God of Prosperity) walking about and interacting with the public. It was fascinating to see everyone so excited to be part of the celebration. 

Mascots at the Chinese New Year parade, Paris

Figurines at the Chinese New Year parade, Paris

The thundering sound from the drums of the dragon dance troupe announced the start of the parade and with each beat, we could see the dragon slowly emerging and started “dancing” in tune with the drum sound. Both sides of the street were packed with people who cheered and waved at the various Chinese New Year Parade groups as they walked down the street!

Lion dance troupes at the Chinese New Year parade, Paris

Dragon dance troupes at the Chinese New Year parade, Paris

Overall, my husband and I were glad that we managed to be enjoy the Chinese New Year celebration in not one, but two countries this year!! We certainly look forward to participating in more of such celebrations in the future! Once again...

Happy Chinese New Year to one and all!! 


  1. Very interesting post! Thx so much for telling us about the Chinese New Year and its customs. I enjoyed your photos as well. Especially the centerpiece of the family of dogs in Chinatown, Singapore, and the fish figurines in Paris! So much creativity involved.

    1. Hi Doreen, thanks for reading and I am glad that you enjoyed it! It's always a pleasure to share about the various cultures and customs all over the world with everyone else :)

  2. Great to see that you enjoyed yourself tremendously while celebrating Chinese New Year in my country Singapore! It's really a huge festival and I had a great time getting together with family and friends to usher in the Year of the Dog :) I never knew that the festival is being celebrated in such a grand fashion in Europe, even Paris! Amazing!

    1. Hi Nathan, thanks for reading and Happy Chinese New Year to you!! Well, I guess the celebration would be quite grand in places where there is a large Chinese population and I was lucky to be able to experience the celebration on such a grand scale in Paris :)

  3. It is always fascinating to read about a culture, a way of life that's very different from your own. Great post!

    1. Hi Priya, thanks for your comments! It is always wonderful to learn about different cultures as we travel :)
      Cheers!! :D

  4. Chinese New year in Singapore does look very festive. Very informative post on the festival and it's relevance. I like how you weave mythological references into the narrative.

    1. Hi Denny, thanks for reading and for the encouraging comments :)

  5. Long back I worked in a Chinese Multinational Software company, and then we used to hear around feb that there is one week off in China because it is Chinese New Year. But, this is the first time I came to know in so much details about the whole concept of the new year, how it is celebrated, why it falls on a different date each year and so on...thanks for the rich informative post!

    1. Hi Neha, thanks for reading and am glad that it provided you with some useful information on Chinese New Year!

  6. The Chinese New Year has always been a source of fascination. The fact that the years are associated with names of animals is so intriguing. China Town in Singapore seems to be a riot of colours during this festival. It looks like a sea of red. It is heartening to note the Chinese New Year celebrations in Paris too with the same zest and enthusiasm.

    1. Hi Voyager Diaries, thanks for reading!! Chinese New Year is certainly a time of great celebration for the Chinese community all over the world and I am glad to be able to share my experience with all of you here! :)