Singapore’s melting pot of cultures is what makes this city so enticing. If you happen to be in town during the first couple of months of the year, you’ll notice a swathe of bright-red decorations dotting the city. This is in celebration of Chinese New Year, or the Spring Festival, which is the biggest and most significant event of the Chinese community.
During this time, the streets of the city come alive with the sounds of traditional music, the sights of hanging red lanterns and the tantalising smells wafting from the many night stalls set-up in various neighbourhoods throughout Singapore.
One such precinct is Chinatown, which, with its stunning street light-ups, night markets and decorations, is the focal point for Chinese New Year celebrations in Singapore. The best time to absorb the frenetic atmosphere Chinatown has to offer is during the Chinatown Street Light Up. This is when lion dancers, fire eaters and female dance troupes dressed in the traditional costume the qipao (a tight fitting dress also known as the cheongsam) grace Kreta Ayer Square with their mesmerising performances. Armed with giant paper fans and intricately patterned umbrellas, they will provide you with street entertainment that you are unlikely to forget.
Folklore is very much at the heart of this festival. All across the city, you’ll notice dragon and lion dances everywhere – lending a cheery, festive atmosphere to the occasion. Dragons and lions are prominent characters in Chinese mythology; its roots originating in ancient China when Nien, a mythical beast which tormented villagers was discovered to be afraid of the colour red.
This is one of the reasons why the Chinese festoon streets with the brightest red lanterns and handout customary hongbaos (red envelopes containing money) – varying from a couple of dollars to several hundred in even denominations for luck and prosperity – each Chinese New Year.
Singapore bursts with all sorts of activities and events during Chinese New Year each year. The centrepiece of the festivities is the Chingay Parade, a grand carnival-like street parade with dazzling floats, thrilling spectacles like fire-eaters, magicians and sizzling dance acts. However, to accommodate more spectators, it is held on the expansive grounds of the Formula One Pit Building alongside the Marina waterfront.
Another popular annual Chinese New Year event is the River Hongbao. Held on the Marina Bay Floating Platform and the Esplanade Waterfront Promenade in mid-February, the vicinity comes alive with the throbbing beat of lively street performances, shopping and games stalls, lanterns and fireworks – a crowd favourite during Chinese New Year. In other words, this fun and interactive event is an absolute must visit for those who know little about the Chinese culture and are curious to find out more.
Nearby at the Esplanade, the annual Huayi Festival also happens in February. This festival showcases traditional and contemporary Chinese arts in a variety of genres like theatre, opera and music, and includes visual installations by renowned Chinese artists from all over the world.
Come soak in the atmosphere in Singapore during Chinese New Year and be entertained by the many activities that happen around it. You’ll leave understanding Chinese culture and its traditions better, as well as with more luck and prosperity for the rest of the year.
Dates to note:
• Chinese New Year – 3 and 4 February 2011
• Chinatown Chinese New Year Celebrations - 8 Jan - 20 Feb 2011 (TBC)
• Chingay Parade Singapore - 11 Feb 2011 at 8.30pm, 12 Feb 2011 at 8pm
• River Hongbao - February 2011