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Jan 17, 2020

Traditional Chinese New Year Celebration

What is the difference of traditional Chinese New Year celebration and modern Chinese New Year celebration?

Although Chinese New Year or Lunar New Year is celebrated by Chinese Singaporean in Singapore, it is a celebration for everyone.  The greetings "Wishing everyone a Happy and Prosperous Chinese New Year" is not intended for the Chinese Singaporeans only.

Chinese New Year Greetings "Keong Hee"

By K.S.Chia [Source:  Singapore Free Press, 29 January 1949]

"Chinese New Year! Ang Pows!"   These magic words have been on the mind of my ten-year old daughter ever since Jan 1.  She has been counting the days and her excitement is mounting as Jan 29.  Chinese New Year Day, draws near and nearer.

I asked my wife the other night if Chinese New Year held as much romance for her when she was ten as it does for her daughter now.  She reflected, with a happy smile, that in her young days, New Year was in fact a greater event than for the present-day girls.

In those good old days, girls went about all bedecked in jewelleries, from the top of their "aeroplane" coiffure down to their feet, where around their ankles rested inch-thick gold anklets.

Chinese New Year was an occasion for the display of wealth then.  Brilliant hair-pins of a type called "suan hua" (diamond flowers) usually worn by little girls some dressed in embroidered coats to look like bridesmaids.

Then too girls put on the coloured muslim long "nonya" dresses, held together in front by more jewelleris - a set of three locket-like ornaments called the "krosangs."  They were pendants, star-shaped and diamond - studded, and lockets swinging from gold necklaces, to make the wearer a-glitter with wealth.  On the fingers were rows of rings and on the writs bright, bejewelled bracelets.

In those days if a girl did not have a "bodyful" of jewelleries, she was not considered properly dressed for the New Year.

The old-world girls wore lovely batik sarongs and, on their feet, gold and silver buillion slippers flashed to vie with the simmering gold anklets they wore.

That was in the early 1920s when gharries were still in vogue.

For my daughter, Chinese New Year holds forth a somewhat different rejoicing.  For generation it is accent on new fashionable frocks, plain coloured lambskin or tigerskin with beautiful lacy flowers sewn on in front, or gaudily-coloured linen, or frocks coloured linen, or frocks with stylish smokings and trimmings.

Or the three-quarter cheongsums for the older girls, now so popular among Chinese women.  My daughter goes for the new style shoes too, to match her frocks, though, of course.  I frown upon such extravangance and let her have only a pair, one that can match any dress.
She has her mother's taste for jewelleries, but here again, she has to be content with what her mother allows her to wear - perhaps a locket, a pair of bangles, and a pair of clip earrings.

There will be no costly hairpins for my daughter - a new perm will be her crowing glory, as a new hair-do is for the modern miss.

Whereas in the days gone by, her mother shyly wished her relatives "keong hee, lives to an old age," and even more shyly secreted the packets in her dress, my daughter will gaily sally forth with her plastic handbag in which to stuff her red packets!

If a girl in 1920 had carried even a small straw purse when she went visiting relatives on New Year Day, the elders would have remarked she was anticipating many red packets, but with the modern miss, plastic handbags swing from press shoulders every day.  It is just the fashion.

About the only significance a gift of an orange on New Year Day would mean to my daughter is that it is a seasonable fruit from China, and very refreshing too, after a series of "keong hee" to  the elders. For my daughter, however, the joy of firing crackers will be available.  Though a girl, she spent quite a few cents last year, letting off crackers for the thrill of hearing them go "bang."

I asked my wife if she had, in her young days, let off a cracker or two, she replied she wasn't the tomboy her daughter ius, but I have a feeling she must have sneaked a cracker or two from her brother's pack and let them off in the backyard.

Modern girls still go for evening drives during New Year time, but not to the same extent as girls in the 1920s did.  Then, there were streams of cars gharries slowing honking their way from one street to another.
Today, with the horn ban on also, they will hear no honking, but there will be those long piercing whistles from young men.]

We didn't know the "wolf call" in those days, but it was much the same thing even if young men then only emitted "ohs" and "ahs," - just a breathe apprecation of beauty.

For the young people and the children especially, the Chinese New Year today, despite the change in celebration, still holds forth its magic - its irrestible charm of brnd new dresses and shoes, of continuous eating of sweet cakes and fruits, its delightful red packets with their brand new coins and crisp, crinkling notes.

How I wished I were young again and reaping my harvest of red packets instead of worrying how much of my month's pay would vanish within red paper this New Year Day.

'Ang Pow Etiquette:  What You Should And Shouldn't Do When Giving Or Receiving

Prepare your pockets, boys and girls!

Chinese New Year is just around the corner, and you know what that means.

Time to reap in those 'ang pows'!  Or for those who are married, it also means that it's time to break out the bank and stuff red pakcets.

However, unlike giving out and receiving treats on Halloween, there is a set of rules you need to abide to when it comes to giving and receiving 'ang pows'.

Here are some things you need to keep in mind:

1.  Never, ever use white 'ang pow' envelopes

2.  Always receive an 'ang pow' with both hands

3.  Work out a budget

4.  Never open an 'ang pow' in front of the giver

5.  Give an 'ang pow' with an amount being even number

6.  Use new banknotes (if not, clean ones)

7.  Know your audience

While it's OK for an unmarried, working adult to give an 'ang pow' to their parents or their nephews/nieces, it's not compulsory for a married adult to give an 'ang pow' to their older, unmarried siblings or friend.

8.  Never give an 'ang pow' without an 'ang pow' envelope

9.  Don't put coins in an 'ang pow'

[Source:  Rojak Daily]

Find out the 10 myth of Chinese New Year here .

Happy New Year! - And It Was
[Source:  The Straits Times, 3 February 1946]

Singapore's first postwar Chinese New Year was welcomed in customary fashion in the early hours of 2 February 1946 morning when Chinatown, bathed in blaze of lights, let off thousands of dollars' worth of crackers to shatter the midnight silence.  To many Chinese still, the maximum amount of noise is conducive to the greatest enjoyment.

All-night mahjong parties, celebrations in the amusement parks and cabarets, crowds at the cinemas, men, women and children in new suits happily milling in the streets were principal indications that the Chinese were making enjoyment their sole building enjoyment their sole business for the day.  The sight of so many new and colourful dresses leads an observer to wonder if there is any cloth shortage in this country.

The biggest, and, to many, the most sacred, day of the year.  Chinese New Year meant to thousands of shop assistants which hardly know the meaning of a holiday closed shops, a mild flutter, and a round of amusements.  Business districts were all quiet although in the residential areas continuous cracker firing by children, competing to make the most noise, meant anything but quiet.

Chinese New Year proper lasts five days.  The celebration may continue until the 15th night when special significance is given to the first full moon of the year and, if visible, crowds take to the open to admire it.

The archived photos of Chinese New Year celebration in Singapore, courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore.

Seven ladies stepping out in their new new frocks on the first day of Chinese New Year on 31 January, 1957 (above).  Another seven ladies at the Botanic Garden on Chinese New Year Day (below).

Firecrackers set off during Chinese New Year celebrations at Smith Street in Chinatown.  Date: 9 February, 1959.

Street processions, especially the Chingay procession at Chinese New Year, were familiar scene in Singapore during the early 1900s.

Lion dancing to usher in Chinese New Year at Smith Street in Chinatown.  Date: 21/02/1959.

Scene at Haw Par Villa during Chinese New Year and Hari Raya Puasa.  Date: 03/02/1965.


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