2014 Chinese New Year of the Metal Horse / 2014农历甲午新年快乐
Homes are often meticulously prepared before CNY, all members of the family pitch in for spring cleaning, festive decorations are put up to welcome both the New Year as well as visiting members of the extended family. Flowers too add color to the festivity, Narcissus bloom just in time for the New Year in Beijing, whilst the White Willow is decorated with hanging ornaments in Singapore.
CNY is celebrated by different ethnic Chinese communities the world over, each with its own climatic, cultural, and historical characteristics thus accounting for the diversity of different local CNY traditions. Take Shenyang, a city in northern China, which can get as cold as -28 degrees Celsius, whereas Singapore averages 28 degrees Celcius during CNY.
That the Chinese invented gunpowder is well-known. They used it to delight themselves with fireworks and yes, firecrackers. The latter were used to scare away a much-maligned monster as the CNY mythology went. Today, firecrackers in Puyang were as much an audio-visual celebration as they were in the past. Unfortunately Singapore, like Beijing after the infamous CNY fire, deemed them a fire hazard, so instead we have a skeumorphic version.
Interesting fact: we know the 1st day of the 1st month to mark the start of the Lunar New Year. However, Spring festival actually starts from the 8th day of the 12th month, aka Laba Festival, to the 19th of the 1st month. The Laba porridge is eaten on Laba Festival in Hangzhou, which marks the end of the harvest season, and traditionally a winter ritual to honour the gods and ancestors. Lo Hei is a unique Singaporean invention, commoditized into a modern CNY ritual, with each pouring of a condiment accompanied by an auspicious Chinese saying relevant to the respective tastes and flavors. Then the frenzy begins: raw fish slices and shredded vegetables are simultaneously mixed and thrown into the air, the height commensurate to the amount of good fortune and the eventual mess on the table!
CNY visitation happens from the 1st to the 5th day of the 1st Lunar Month, particularly important to children who get to receive a red packet with cash inside. Younger members visit the homes of elder members of the family, both in respect of their seniority and also because the latter tend to be less mobile. What one brings during the visitation differs from place to place. In Hangzhou, the Pomelo is handily eaten after a meal whilst in Singapore Mandarin Oranges are brought in pairs, not meant to be eaten but to be exchanged with the host.