One event that has become almost a tradition for most Singaporeans to visit during the Chinese New Year would be River Hongbao. An annual event held without fail for 28 years since 1986, it features large lanterns made by craftsmen from China, handicrafts, local & regional delicacies, stage performances and numerous fringe activities for all ages. Best of all, it’s free admission and possibly the best place to bring the entire family to infuse the festive atmosphere – without burning a bigger hole in your pocket after giving out all the ang pows (red packets) and buying new clothes.
Having watched Chingay (妆艺大游行 ) countless times on television, I was pretty curious about seeing the street parade in person. Being there and having the opportunity to walk alongside the performers during the grand rehearsal was entirely a new and exhilarating experience.
Chingay was a common sight in colonial times in the form of large religious processions held by the different Chinese dialect groups to honour their deities (the earliest recorded was in 1840 to welcome the arrival of the deity Ma Zhu Po the protector of seafarers from China). The word ‘Chingay’ came from the phonetic form of the Hokkien character to describe “the art of costume and masquerade”.
Singapore’s first ‘official’ Chingay was held on 4 February 1973 with 2,000 participants from the People’s Association and the Singapore National Pugilistic Federation to celebrate the Chinese New Year. The procession made its way from Victoria School in Jalan Besar to Outram Park, led by a large statue of a bull to signify the Year of the Ox. Chingay has since grown into Asia’s grandest street parade featuring spectacular acts, stunning costumes and decorated mobile floats. This year saw 10,000 performers from different races, ages, backgrounds and 120 different organisations performing to the theme of “Fire in Snow” (雪中火) for a ‘live’ audience of 160,000 and 1.5 million television viewers.
It was a very memorable night of many firsts – first time at Chingay, first time photographing a street parade, first time experiencing firecrackers, first time seeing a centipede dance, and first time seeing Mr Yam Ah Mee in person. But it will definitely not be the last Chingay for me :)
One thing I have grown to look forward to at my home during Chinese New Year are the visiting lion and dragon dances. I love the festive mood brought out by the rhythmic, boisterous beat of the big drums and clangs of cymbals.
The origin of lion dance during Chinese New Year is thought to have started through a legend where a mythical beast called a Nian (meaning year in Chinese) would come and attack villagers at the same time every year. The villagers asked for the help of a great colourful lion spirit, who came and drove the Nian away with much noise. The following year, the people were left defenseless as the lion was away defending the Emperor’s Palace. The people improvised and created a false lion out of cloth and bamboo along with noisy firecrackers to drive the Nian away. This was so successful that every year since then, the lion dance is performed to frighten away evil spirits and bring luck in with the New Year.
The lion is regarded as the king of the forest and of the other animals. It has thus long been used as a symbol of power and grandeur, and believed to offer protection from evil spirits. The lion dance is now commonly used as a symbol of auspiciousness to mark key dates such as Chinese New Year or the opening of a new business. Throughout the performance, the lion will mimic various moods and demonstrate similar physical gestures allowing the Lion to look life-like. The lion dance combines art, history and kung fu moves. A group of lion dancers consists of about 10 people.
Come again next year my dear kitties!