by HCwrites @ Medium

Get ready to learn five fun facts about the Lunar New Year from the perspective of a Singaporean Chinese.

1. More buns in the oven

The dragon — the only mythical creature in the Chinese zodiac — is regarded as a very auspicious creature in Chinese culture. And the upcoming Lunar New Year is going to be a Dragon year.

If you have a baby during a Dragon year, that Dragon baby is going to be so lucky and successful in life.

This popular belief creates a predictable bump in the birth rate for Singapore every 12 years, to the delight of policy-makers and prospective grandparents.

Frankly, conceiving a Dragon baby is overrated.

Prenatal classes are fully booked before you even attend your 20-week ultrasound scan. Clothing sizes for the Dragon babies often run out at your preferred UNIQLO or Muji store. Ditto for Croc sandals.

Don’t even get me started on schooling options.

And don’t ask me how I know this…

2. Indian food and Malay food are popular in Singapore on the first day of Lunar New Year

Around 75% of the citizen population in Singapore are ethnically Chinese.

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Now, if you consider yourself a Chinese person, taking a break from work on the first day of the Lunar New Year is practically mandatory. What this looks like is that many eateries and shops are shuttered that day.

Growing up, I’ve always felt bad about how this Chinese tradition inconveniences the non-Chinese residents on our island.

However, the flip side is that Indian and Malay eateries enjoy roaring business on the first day of the Lunar New Year—a straightforward demand-supply situation.

Speaking of which, I should start planning whether to have thosai or nasi padang for lunch on 10 Feb this year.

3. Your debtors may hound you

That’s right, your debtors — not creditors — may start hounding you before the Lunar New Year arrives. Superstitious debtors, that is.

It’s considered very unlucky to owe debts that continue into the Lunar New Year. You don’t want to ruin your luck for the Dragon year, do you?

On the other hand, if you are a creditor of a superstitious Chinese person and you believe they are in a position to repay you, now’s a really good time to remind them of their debt obligations.

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Oh, and 30-year home mortgages clearly don’t count for this particular superstition…

4. The auspicious greetings change every year depending on what the prevailing zodiac animal is

The Chinese zodiac has 12 animals, corresponding to a 12-year cycle.

For what it’s worth, the 12 animals are a Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. There’s a whole charming story about how this order of the animals came to be. And yes, a dragon is considered an animal.

It’s customary to incorporate the prevailing zodiac animal into the auspicious greetings we exchange with family and friends over the Lunar New Year period, which spans 15 days.

This is possible because Mandarin is a tonal language that readily lends itself to homophones and fun puns galore.

The wordplay is easy for the Tiger, Dragon, and Horse years because these are exalted animals in Chinese culture, and there are evergreen auspicious greetings that already incorporate references to them.

It’s trickier for the Snake, Monkey, Rooster, and Dog years. I usually sidestep this unique problem by prefacing evergreen auspicious greetings with “In this Year of the [relevant unexalted animal], I wish you…”

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It’s also perfectly okay to just stick to evergreen auspicious greetings.

5. It’s taboo to talk about death… except when it’s not

As a child, I would get scolded by my mum if I said something negative or inauspicious during the Lunar New Year.

I remember being instructed to not say the Mandarin word for “book” — that thing with a spine, covers, pages, and occasionally a jacket — because “book” is a homophone for “lose”.

If something undesirable happens, say someone drops a plate and breaks it, it’s customary to quickly shout out an auspicious saying that translates to “what drops to the ground blooms like a flower”. You know, to nix the hex.

So it may be surprising to learn that one of the evergreen auspicious greetings for the Lunar New Year contains a reference to death.

That greeting translates to “May the five blessings descend upon your home” (Chinese characters: 五福临门), and the five blessings are longevity, wealth, health, virtue, and natural death.

In the words of a non-Chinese friend, this auspicious greeting is a perfect blessing. And I agree.


A version of this article first appeared at 5 Fun Facts About Lunar New Year From a Singaporean Chinese