Whether you’re new to Singers or rusty on your knowledge, this primer’s a great way to prepare for the coming Chinese New Year festivities, mama!
As preparations begin to gather pace and mamas start feeling the stress of searching for new (red, of course!) clothes and shoes for the kiddos, we thought it might help to know that millions and millions of other mamas around the world are in the same frantic search as you are! Read on for some other fascinating things that may come as a surprise to you about Chinese New Year…
1. Chinese New Year is a festival celebrated by one-fifth of the world’s population
…making it probably one of the most widely celebrated festivals in the world! From China, to Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Philippines, South Korea, Macau, Brunei, and everywhere else in the world that has a Chinese population, Chinese New Year is a very special time dedicated to honouring deities, family reunions, and preparing well for the New Year ahead. Each of these countries have designated their own number of public holidays for CNY but no matter, everywhere it is still a time for celebrating, feasting and making merry. Taiwan (population: 24 million), and China (1.3 billion) lead the way with as many as five days of public holidays, with people in China taking it as the winter vacation week. South Korea (50 million), Vietnam (where 94 million know the Lunar New Year as ‘Tet’), Hong Kong (7 million), and Macau (600,000) celebrate over three days of public holidays.
2. The world’s largest annual human migration is caused by Chinese travelling home for CNY in China*
For the 1.3 million people who work in China’s cities, the national holiday is the only time in the year they will get to go home and reunite with much missed families. In 2016, official estimates reported a staggering 2.91 billion journeys made during the CNY period – about 2.48 billion by road, 332 million by railway, 54.55 million trips by air, and 42.8 million by water. All this to-ing and fro-ing of so many people inevitably poses a host of logistical challenges (read: nightmares). Even with extra trains running last year, the China Railway Corporation still found it nearly impossible to get every anxious traveller, laden with bulging suitcases and a stack of presents, home in time. Snowfall at this time only extends the travel misery, putting even more pressure on an already overstretched system. To put these numbers in perspective, less than 100 million people travel more than 50 miles during the Christmas holidays in the US, says the American Automobile Association. (Think of all this the next time your MRT line breaks down!)
3. Every Chinese New Year starts with an animal zodiac
Each New Year is named after one of 12 animals in a repeating Chinese zodiac cycle. The animals are: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. Legend has it these animals were the only ones to respond to an invitation from God to visit him and pay their respects, and this is the order in which they arrived at his home. The small but crafty rat outwitted all the others and was the first to arrive and greet God, and so was rewarded with the honour of starting the cycle. People are believed to exhibit some of the particular characteristics of the animal year they are born in, flattering or otherwise! So, the belief is that people born in the year of the Dog tend to be loyal and protective of their territory and families, while Pigs tend to be foodies and are generally easy going!
Much like Western astrology, the Chinese Zodiac exerts a strong influence on many decisions, ranging from when to get married, have a child, or even a ‘good’ day to have a haircut. In Singapore, as in many parts of Asia, the year of the auspicious Dragon has traditionally seen a spike in the number of newborns!
4. Celebrate your birthday on the 7th day of CNY!
In Chinese beliefs, the 7th day of Lunar New Year is when all mankind was created and, for this reason, it’s known as ‘Everyone’s Birthday’. Mamas, if ever you needed a reason to celebrate your birthday twice in a year, this is it! You are advised to do it in style, by tossing a raw fish salad – yusheng – as high as you can to guarantee success in everything you do in the coming year. For good measure, make sure you have a dish of noodles with seven types of vegetables which foretell of an abundance of food and good health. Long noodles promise longevity so resist the temptation to cut up your noodles into bite-sized lengths.
5. The last day of CNY is also Chinese Valentine’s Day
If you think the festivities will have died down by the 15th, and final, day of Chinese New Year, think again. The 15th day, called Chap Goh Meh (pronounced: Chupp- Gore-May) is often celebrated with a family dinner, with thanksgiving prayers and offerings made to the God of Prosperity for wealth and good luck in the coming year.
The 15th day is also traditionally when single women would throw mandarin oranges into the sea or river in the hope of finding a good husband. The belief was that whomever picked up your orange would be your suitor. It was also the day when single women, dressed in their best, were able to wander about town or visit temples on their own, signalling to potential suitors their hopes of finding love and a husband…
Contrary to popular belief, this tradition did not originate in China but is said to have started, somewhat surprisingly, in Penang! Apparently, every year, the roads leading to the Esplanade in Penang are jammed with hopeful women, potential suitors, and just about everyone else wanting to make the most of the last day of the festivities!
Gong Xi Fa Cai, mamas!