Renae Laurice Meana is a 3rd year Global Studies major studying at Yale-NUS College in Singapore this semester. As many of you know, Chinese New Year was a few weeks ago. As we begin the Year of the Pig, read what Renae experienced in Singapore to learn more about some of the holiday traditions around the world!
It’s the beginning of February, which means it’s holiday season in Singapore. Chinese Singaporeans are the largest ethnic group, accounting for almost ¾ of the total Singaporean population. Although the holidays may be considered over in the U.S., it feels as if it’s just beginning here. I can feel it and see it all around me.
Outside of MRT stations there are stands selling so many Chinese New Year related items. With Chinese music playing in the background of the stalls, there are red and gold decorations being sold alongside cute plush pigs since it is the year of the pig. Malls are decorated with displays of red lanterns, pigs, tangerines, and oranges (as this fruit signifies wealth and luck for the upcoming year). Booths selling goodies such as dried fruits and traditional cookies are found everywhere in the mall. At most malls, there are huge displays with all the different fortunes and predictions for the upcoming year for you, based on the year you were born. The fortunes include predictions on your health, career, love life, financial state, and more. It’s actually pretty funny how in depth they can be. For example, one of my roommates’ fortunes predicted pretty bad luck for a majority of the categories, but it did say she would find her life partner this year. The actual accuracy and validity of these fortunes is debatable. My roommates and I love reading them and seeing how they differ from mall to mall. Even the big transnational brands in the mall are targeting shoppers during the holiday season. Walking into H&M, all the advertisements feature Chinese models wearing red dresses, tops, sweaters, and suits. Beyond the shopping mall, what I love to scout out are the fast food chains and their special menu items for the New Year. McDonald’s has prosperity burgers and prosperity punch while KFC and Burger King sell New Year’s bundle meals.
Chinese New Year almost feels equivalent to Thanksgiving back in the U.S. I was able to enjoy a five-day weekend since my classes were cancelled on Monday for New Year’s Eve and Tuesday and Wednesday were considered public holidays in Singapore for the celebrations. The campus felt quite emptier, as most Singaporean students went back home to celebrate the holiday with their family. Only one dining hall was open to accommodate international students who would be staying on campus during the holiday. Speaking to some local students, many of them are exhausted from the festivities. For Chinese Singaporeans, Chinese New Year means visiting the houses of all their relatives, no matter how distant. However, what was really nice was that Yale-NUS’s president and his wife opened up their house for a Chinese New Year celebration for students that were on campus. It was a very welcoming event with a beautifully laid out table with many Chinese New Year treats and desserts. It was a really thoughtful event and a great way for international students to engage in the celebrations.
An incredible and unforgettable event that I went to with my suite was the Lunar New Year celebrations next to Marina Bay Sands. Being within a crowd of red and seeing the vibrancy of the celebrations with the music, food, and dance in the background was electric. Many families and couples were out and about to celebrate. There were so many beautiful lanterns that glowed throughout the night. Fireworks are actually illegal in Singapore so you won’t find individual households setting them off. However, the firework show put on by the Singaporean government made up for it. I have seen so many images and have watched live television broadcasts of fireworks shows during the New Year, but seeing it in person was an incredible experience.
It’s a couple weeks later and the celebrations are still going on strong. I am so glad to be in Singapore during such a festive time. The city is decorated beautifully in celebration of the New Year to bring in prosperity for the coming year. It truly feels as if the holiday season never really stopped after leaving the U.S.