Chinese New Year – My Childhood Days

Reminiscing my childhood days, especially Chinese New Year, always put a smile on my face. Whether it was good times or not so good times.

I remembered my family was very poor. My father was a baker and had to feed a family nine which comprised my parents and my six siblings. On normal days, we would have sweet potato porridge. And sometimes its rice with dark soy sauce stirred into it. On better days, we had some plain egg omelette cos two eggs can make one big flat omelette and we lick our platter clean.

For Chinese New Year, mum would buy a bale of cloth and my eldest sister, with her trial and error skill, would sew the dress for us. We could only choose bows or pockets or some ruffles. I love pockets 🙂 And for haircuts, we would line up for our turn and the same sister who cuts the cloth also cuts our hair. At the end of it, we all had almost similar hairstyles – looked like she placed a Chinese rice bowl over our head and cut along the rim of the bowl. But we were happy!
Mum would order a crate of Green Spot orange juice but we were not allowed to have it cos it was for guests only. It would be poured into little glasses for the guests and we would tip the bottle over to try and get the few drops that may be left in the bottle.

Mum would make traditional Hainanese sweets like the rice puff squares with peanuts (Ho Gong) and some sugared crullers (Hee How) – Hainanese pronunciation of the items.

On Chinese New Year’s eve, Mum would cook boiled chicken and pork, fried fish and rice for prayers for our ancestors. She also bought some fruits and a steam cake. We look forward to this special once a year treat. After prayers, mum would make rice balls and chop up the chicken for us to enjoy with the rest of the food.

On Chinese New Year’s Day, when we woke up first thing in the morning, mum would pop a candy into our mouths before we could utter a word cos she knew that the first words that would come out after that would be “So Sweet” which would bring a good start to the New Year. We never got to keep the hong baos given by our guests. Mum told us in advance that the hong baos had to be given to her as soon as we recieved them so that she could “recycle” it. The only hong bao we had was from mum and it had two ten cents coins.

Our neighbours would hang long strings of fire crackers with bamboo poles and tried to outdo each other as to the length of their fire crackers. Of course they are the ones who are better off to afford this luxury. We enjoyed the merriment free of charge.

When my older siblings started work, we had more in terms of food and drinks. But the fun and enjoyment of kampong style Chinese New Year celebrations would never change.

I would trade my boutique bought dresses and tasty pineapple tarts for the dress with pockets and mum’s Ho Gong and Hee How for that yesterday once more!

I am sure many of you had your fair share of fun so do share them with us.

Gong Xi Fa Cai, Shen Ti Jian Kang and Wan Shi Ru Yi to everyone!


12 thoughts on “Chinese New Year – My Childhood Days

  1. Haha Carly. My memories of Chinese New Year consist of :-

    a) On CNY’s eve, my dad will hang a string of fire crackers from our 3rd
    storey flat’s veranda to ground level at Tiong Bahru. Before midnight, he would be checking the string was still intact as our neighbour from the 4th floor would also have his hung like many others in the neighbourhood. Me and my siblings would be excitedly waiting for the stroke of midnight when my dad and other neighbours would gather on the ground floor to lit matches to the fire crackers. Woah when that happened all of us would cover our ears with our fingers as the noise of fire crackers popping simultaneously would be ear-splitting! Not only the noise but the pungent smell of the fire crackers would permeate our nostrils as well! The next morning the grass on the ground floor would be covered in red – the burnt remnants of the fire crackers.
    b) Like you Carly, I grew up wearing home-made clothes. My mum was not too bad a seamstress and she even took on orders for made-to-measure clothes.l I vividly recall (even till today) three particular dresses my mum sewed for me. One was in a soft material, red in colour with a round scooped neckline. It was sleeveless and cut straight at the sides with a slim string to be used as a belt. That dress had two pockets and I also liked pockets. 🙂 The other dress was called a ‘tent’ dress in the 60’s…bell-shaped sleeves and the dress flared out like a tent. The colour was lemoney green. The third dress was made from curtain material. Yes, a nerdy-looking teacher who fancied me bought me the material. Aiyoh! Of all materials to buy, he bought curtain material! Nonetheless my mum created a very pretty dress that had folded pleats on my hip line.
    c) On CNY day, us children were not allowed to keep the money from our hong baos as well – not till we finished our education. My mum recycled the monies from the hong baos given to us.
    d) My beloved mum was a super cook. Being Peranakan she could cook a feast from cheap ingredients with her many rempahs adding oomph to the food. Being the eldest and then wearing spectacles I was given the much disliked task of pounding chillies and other spices. My mum thought my spectacles would provide a shield to my eyes from the jumping chillies. That of course is not true hor.
    e) One of the traditions of CNY I carried till today and passed down to my children is the wearing of red outfits on the first day of CNY. During my younger days I was garbed like a walking hong bao from head to toe in red. Nowadays I will just wear a red outfit. No more red underwear, bags and shoes….:p

    It’s nice to recall how we spent our CNY during our childhood, teenage years and youth. Photos that were taken then would now be damaged or yellowed.
    We survived with black/white television programmes, pagers and house phones. Look at what our children have now. Ho mia lor!

    Gong Xi Fa Cai

  2. Dear Ros
    Wow! Thank you for sharing your interesting childhood CNY celebrations. And you are so lucky your mum can sew pretty dresses for you. Hahaha! I like that curtain material thing! Prob most men do not know how to differentiate the different type of fabrics. Mmmm… Peranakan food – reminds me of my Bibi neighbour. She was a very good cook and bakes very well too. When she makes Kueh Bahulu, she uses the authentic mould and charcoal stove to cook it. My sisters and I, together with other children in the neighbourhood will gather round her. When she is about to lift the cover, we will shout “hangus! hangus!” which means burnt. And she will let us eat the kueh if she finds even a small dot of black on the kueh and chased us away after that so that we would not bad mouth her kueh and they are very pantang. Bibi’s are very proud of their kuehs and they will serve only the best home made ones.
    Ooh! I dislike to tumbuk the rempah. I remember having to pound the chilli for my mum’s chicken rice and if you forget and rubs the eyes, WAHHHHHHH!
    So you were the little walking Hong Bao!

    BTW, you look good in red 🙂

  3. I remember People’s Park at that time where we would go for the yearly pre-CNY trips. We’d walk through the pathway inside the open-air stalls to shop for material to bring to our tailor to sew us a new dress, and how we’d suffer the biting sting in our eyes – I suppose from the lint flying all over the cloth from the textile shops.

    Oh and how I still remember my first pair of high heel shoes and what a disappointment- the heels snapped just after a few wears. Too poor to buy a better quality pair, I suppose, and those were the days of our generation where everybody was just too poor!

    But though life was not as easy as now, the CNY season at that time was always very keenly looked forward to. I remember me and my siblings would count down to the days very excitedly, cos there was something everybody’s looking forward to – the ang pows, of course, and what a mini windfall at the end of the day when all the monies were counted cos we’d never had so much otherwise for our daily pocket allowance.

    Those were the days, really. Haiya, getting old liao, thinking about it.

  4. Hi every one,
    I am trying to create a new post to share about aging gracefully but dont know how. So I post it in this reply. Perhaps some one can re post it in a forum where it can reach all members. Also teach me how to create new post.

    7 Important Ways to Age Gracefully
    1. Accept it, but don’t give in to it.

    2. Realize that it’s never too late. As John Barrymore said, “A man is not old until regrets replace dreams.”

    3. Being moderate and regulated with how we treat our body is one of the smartest steps we can take.

    4. Realize what you have and be grateful for it.

    5. Laugh often. In George Bernard Shaw’s words, “You don’t stop laughing when you grow old, you grow old when you stop laughing.”

    6. Do what you can to look your best, and then forget about it. There’s a lot more to life than how you look.

    7. Find meaningful activities. Follow where your passions lie.

    I hope each day finds you growing old gracefully, with health, happiness, and fulfillment.

    . And may all of you live long, live strong, and live happy

    I have seen how this club grown and happy for all new and old members to have now wider scope of activities. Wish I have more time myself to participate.

    Will want to get to know more of all of you one day


  5. I spend my primary school days living in a kampong along Jiak Kim Street just down the same road where the Zouk disco is today. Chinese New Year is the only time we kids have extra few cents and we always spend it on Wan Tan Mee served by an old lady in Great World Amusement park. She works through the CNY.
    When we have a little money left we buy fire crackers or we begged from adults.
    The best way to enjoy fire cracker is to light it while holding with your fingers and throw it into the dirty Singapore river so that it explodes just when it touches the water. The explosion cause a splash of water. Throw too soon there will be no splash, throw too late your fingers get burnt.
    Another fun way is to stand the fire cracker on the floor, get ready an empty condense milk tin. Light the fuse and cover the tin over the fire cracker. When it explodes the tin can will fly up. We had very good reflexes then.
    These were fun and exciting years because of the element of danger.
    I when to NTUC to buy cat food yesterday and there were queues of about 30 people to each payment counter. The queue hardly move because each customer have a lot of purchases.
    Times have changed, now that we have more money, we spend our time queuing to buy more things instead of enjoying what we have.

    • Hi Tian Soo,

      You have always been a grand daddy to many of us in SilverHairsClub. From time to time, you share with us your wise words and grandfatherly concerns.

      I like to wish you another 20 more years of good health and happiness.
      A Happy Chinese New Year to you and family.

      Terence Seah

  6. Hi fellow SHCians,
    For most of us, tonight is the grand tradition reunion dinner which I look forward to.

    When I was in my twenties, I looked forward to run out of the house immediately after dinner. Quickly, I would put on my night out wear, and go out disco dancing. My father would quietly sneaked out of the house, and go for another reunion dinner with another family.

    As a boy, I left most of the traditional preparations to my mother, get ready the red clothes, new shoes and oranges. In those days, i remember i used to carry a handkerchief.

    The next morning, I slept late, until my mum woke me up. Now that she is gone, I still wake up late, but this time, staying at home and waiting for my niece and nephews to turn up. But, that’s tomorrow.

    I have not heard from many of you; but this may be a good opportunity to know and hear from you. What are you doing tonight and tomorrow morning?

    Terence Seah

  7. Dear Susan
    Yes, Chinatown. A must go to place before CNY. However, as a child I did not get a chance to go there. I think I started going there only after I got married cos late hubby was a traditional man. Now I have stopped going there cos I get squeezed till I “can’t breathe”. But I enjoy the CNY songs blaring in the air when I pass by n I get so emo hahaha!

    Dear TS
    Sounds fun. My neighbour got his index finger blown off when he released his fire cracker a wee bit too slow. But boys will be boys. He still played with fire crackers. You must have been a little rascal who loves all the “dangerous” fun. That’s why we all love our childhood days.

    Dear Terence
    You don’t look the type who is into disco. I thought you looked like a mama’s boy who wld help clean the dishes. Well! Whatever turns you on, jus enjoy it.
    I love my yearly steamboat reunion dinners with my family. It’s the time of the year to eat, drink n bond.
    It’s freezing here. Happy Lunar New Year!

    • Hi Caroline,
      Next year i shall spend time in Singapore during CNY. I hope we can have a big CNY do.

      Let’s all think about a CNY steam boat.

      Terence Seah

  8. Hi Folks,
    Kong Hee Fatt Choy!!
    I still prepare & cook by myself the Eve reunion dinner & steamboat lunch for my immediate family on the 1st day of the Chinese Lunar New Year & I heave a sigh of relief when its over!
    Then from the 2nd day I am back to a singles life & have time to
    be out with friends again!

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