Mention the three words ‘Chinese New Year’ and one might start to drool over the soon-to-be-consumed delectable pineapple tarts, the abundance of Ang Pao (Red Packets) collected or even start feeling the excitement and thrill that come along with playing mahjong and cards with one’s relatives and friends’ houses. However, we believe that there is so much more to Chinese New Year. It is much more than an enrichment of our stomachs and our bank accounts.
Chinese New Year, also known as Spring Festival in modern China, is perhaps the most prominent and widely celebrated Chinese festival in the world, with festivities lasting for fifteen days and even involving the world’s largest annual human mass migration in the world.
It is a day that bears much significance – with customs and traditions carried forth from centuries ago and serves to remind Singaporean Chinese of our roots and Asian heritage.
Furthermore, it is a festival that promotes closer family ties, evident in how reunion dinners and the congregation of different generations in the family are de rigueur. It also fosters respect in the young ones through the tradition of paying greetings to the senior members of the family, and the seniors returning the greetings and giving red packets to the juniors.
While the older generation has preserved the traditions and customs of the festival, we feel that there has indeed been a noticeable dilution in the culture of celebrating Chinese New Year, especially in the younger generation. Whilst talking to many of our peers, we realised that many of us did not even understand the rationale behind many of the traditions we have, with many of us doing it for the sake of doing so with disregard of the symbolism that many of these traditions possess.
Although this ignorance could be seen as potentially worrying, we believe that the attempts of organisations and schools to foster a greater understanding and preservation of the Chinese culture have helped to alleviate this problem. One such effort is through the annual Chinese New Year celebrations in school.
Tossing Yu Sheng in the canteen for good fortune
“Lo Hei” in Cantonese, where 捞 “lo” (literally mixing) means “tossing up good fortune”, refers to the ritual adopted in Singapore of tossing the yu sheng and saying of auspicious phrases before eating it. It is popularly believed that the higher the toss, the better your prospects and fortune in the year ahead.
On 15 February this year, our school held its annual Chinese New Year concert in the hall, with a range of diverse performances.
When we first walked into the hall, we immediately noticed how the hall was adorned by the lanterns that were made during the class lantern-making competition.
They covered the perimeters of the hall, and were all of unique designs, showing the creativity of Victorians as well as adding to the festive atmosphere.
The celebration began with Chinese-cultured performances to heighten the ambience. We were first serenaded by the melodious musical piece, Dance of the Golden Snake, performed by the Chinese Orchestra. Dance of the Golden Snake is a popular and traditional piece of music performed during the Chinese New Year.
As mentioned by a member of the Chinese Orchestra, the CNY performance this year was particularly challenging as the more experienced members were called to help out as stage hands, leaving the less experienced members to perform. “I was very shocked when they took out the most experienced player from my section. I have only played my instrument for a year, it is one of the most difficult instruments in the Chinese Orchestra and the fast tempo of the song added to the challenge, hence I never thought it would be possible for me. But I guess we still managed to put up a decent performance after hours of hard work and it also helped to boost my confidence quite a bit,” said the member.
Following that, the Wushu team put up a spectacular performance that left us immensely astonished with their powerful and incredible stunts. At the end of each segment of the performance, echoes of “woah” and “so cool” punctuated with loud applause and cheers could be heard from the mesmerised audience.
Taking a break from performances was the Lucky Draw segment which gave away very attractive prizes such as KOI and Starbucks gift cards. This segment hyped the entire audience as it was carried out in a quirky way that was similar to a popular TV show by Sheng Siong supermarket. Victorians participated actively in this segment and it was definitely a witty attempt by the adhoc to spice things up a little and inject humour and life in the celebration. No doubt, this was one of the highlights of the celebration which left a deep impression in many of us.
However, with all these Chinese-based performance items and segments, it is of no worry that our fellow Chinese schoolmates understood what went on, but what about our non-Chinese counterparts? How did they feel throughout the celebration?
Author’s Note: One friend of mine from another JC casually quipped that she felt left out during the Chinese New Year celebrations in her school because it was conducted in Chinese and she couldn’t understand anything. I guess, as a Chinese person myself, it is easy to gloss over and casually dismiss the invidious prejudices that inevitably show up with unchecked majoritarianism.
It is easy to be deluded by idealisms of a Utopian Singapore where legislatures and even self-surveillance suffice, in combating racism and xenophobia; where festivals of all races are accorded equal importance ; where egalitarianism prevails, regardless of race, language or religion. But is that so? Are there implicit biases that we’ve been unknowingly conditioned to ignore? Are there unpleasant realities that we have been unable to perceive, through our myopic rose-tinted glasses?
We are indeed grateful that VJ took the sensitivities of other races into account, by showing that Chinese New Year is not just a celebration for the Chinese, through the wonderful dance performances put up by the MCS and RSP. However, we think that there is always more food-for-thought. How do we, as multicultural citizens in this bustling metropolis, harmonize the celebration of age-old traditions with the concerns for multiculturalism? How do we prevent those notions from being diametrically at odds with each other? How do we celebrate our traditions, while preventing its translation into an implicit, insensitive and insidious brandishment of the privileges accorded to the majority?
Let us celebrate all our traditions together, not merely as a ‘ritualistic’ adornment of the school with red plastic decorations, nor merely as an occasion for us to ‘religiously’ toss the vegetables of our Yu Sheng into the air. Let us celebrate all our festivals by remembering their significances, memorialized in the long forgotten history books of yesteryears. Let us celebrate our festivals together, regardless of race, language, or religion.
Isabel Joy Kua Hui Qi, 17A14
Gigi Liu Wei Qi, 17A15
Ong Yong En, 17A14
Karissa Chong, 17A14