For many of us, the Chinese New Year holiday was the golden opportunity for reunions and travelling. This year's going to be a little different.
With borders still closed and social distancing measures still tight, this might be the year to immerse yourself in lunar new year traditions to bring the best luck into the year of the Ox!
Instead of emphasising on the don'ts and taboos, we'll be focusing on traditions that bring joy and blessings to your home, yourself, and to those around you.
Clean away the bad luck
Chinese people believe that cleaning your house before CNY symbolises the washing away of bad energy and misfortune of the previous year in preparation for better ones. To some of us, cleaning can be therapeutic, thus this is a good chance to self-reflect, bid farewell to the last year and welcome the new.
While cleaning your home, don't forget to also clear out clothes or items that no longer "spark joy." But instead of throwing them away, we suggest donating them to charities or non-profits such as Pass-It-On, Greensquare, and MINDS shop to minimise waste and give those clothes a new lease on life for people in need. Since the tradition is to clean your house only before CNY begins, give it your best effort and once it's done you can kickback and relax until CNY is over!
Usher in blessings with bright home decorations
After the house has been cleaned, it is time to put up auspicious CNY decorations! Most CNY home decorations are in red as it is a lucky colour in Chinese culture, symbolising happiness, beauty, vitality, good fortune, and success.
Chinese lanterns are one of the most common decorations during CNY because it serves as a wish for a brighter future. While you can easily find paper lanterns being sold everywhere before CNY, try making them yourself this year by reusing paper from your red envelopes.
Door couplets and Upside down Fu (福) characters
Even numbers have positive connotations in Chinese culture, which is why lunar new year wishes are posted in a pair on each side of the house door frame. On the other hand, an upside down Chinese character "Fu" (福) , which means good fortune, is placed on the top of the door frame or in the middle of the door. There is a superstitious belief that when Fu is upside-down, good fortune will pour out into the household. It is definitely worth a try! You can easily get these home decorations at your local SKP shops or Daiso.
Mandarin trees (kumquat trees)
Another typical auspicious CNY decoration is the mandarin or kumquat tree. Its popularity came from the fact that kumquat tree in Cantonese "Gam Gat Sue" (金橘) contains the word gold (gam, 金) and contains a word that sounds like good luck (gat, 橘) in Cantonese. These fruits could also be handed out as CNY gifts, but don't forget to give them out in an even number!
Prepare symbolic reunion dinner meals for prosperity
As you probably realised, symbolism is a big theme during CNY. This applies not only to customs, home decorations, and gifts but also to the food eaten during the festival. Here are some menus you can try to make or order for a reunion dinner with your housemates this year.
As its name suggests, spring rolls are typically eaten during the Spring Festival (aka CNY festival). Golden brown in colour and shaped like gold bars, spring rolls are the perfect food to represent wealth and prosperity. They are also very easy to make and are widely available in your neighbourhood hawker.
Steamed whole fish
A reunion dinner meal will not be complete without a whole fish on the menu. The Chinese love their fish because the pronunciation of the word fish (yú 鱼) in Mandarin is the same as the word "surplus," which symbolises abundance. On top of that, fish is also considered a healthier meat that can be consumed by most people.
Here's how to prepare a traditional Chinese steamed fish dish in 20 minutes by Angel Wong's Kitchen without a steamer!
Pén cài (盆菜), which translates to Chinese casserole or feast bowl, is a CNY dish that originated from the Hakka villages in Hong Kong's New Territories. The dish could include up to 20 auspicious ingredients, each one cooked separately before being layered on top of one another in a wooden or clay-pot bowl to be slow cooked together again with gravy.
Now a days, most families in Singapore don't have time to prepare their own pen cai for reunion dinners, which is why many Chinese restaurants offer their own version for pre-order before CNY. Consider this the new year gift – no mess, no fuss, just eat and be merry.
- Kam's Roast - Best for authentic pen chai
- Jiak Zhey Hawker Vegetarian Cuisine - For vegan and vegetarian pen cai
- Peach Garden - Offers mala pot version to ramp up the heat
- Ming Kitchen Seafood - For the freshest seafood
- Summer Pavilion - Awarded one Michelin star (this one's for the splurgers)
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