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New CNY traditions beckon for some, as Singaporean families adapt to Covid-19 rules

SINGAPORE — It will be a quieter Chinese New Year for most this year, with many families saving on goodies, snacks and new clothes given that house visits and family gatherings have to be kept to a minimum to curb the spread of Covid-19.

Financial advisor Sherrill Gan with framed photographs of her family from Singapore and Muar, Malaysia.

Financial advisor Sherrill Gan with framed photographs of her family from Singapore and Muar, Malaysia.

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  • This year’s Chinese New Year will be a quiet one for most due to Covid-19
  • Families told TODAY they’ll be spending CNY with just family
  • Those who usually return to Malaysia are creating new traditions in Singapore


SINGAPORE — It will be a quieter Chinese New Year for most this year, with many families saving on goodies, snacks and new clothes given that house visits and family gatherings have to be kept to a minimum to curb the spread of Covid-19.

But for Ms Beverly Leow, her family will actually be spending more money this year.

During previous festive seasons, the Singaporean and her family would travel to Malaysia to visit relatives there.

This year, Ms Leow’s family will play host for a change to their relatives who are in Singapore.

“Usually for Chinese New Year… our relatives will make the goodies and snacks, and we will bring them home. And since nobody visits us in Singapore, we never had a need to buy or stock up,” said the 24-year-old allied health executive.

“Now people will be visiting us… but we don’t even know where to buy things or what’s good in Singapore,” she quipped.

Allied health executive Beverly Leow (second row from bottom, third from right) used to travel to Johor, Malaysia to visit relatives for Chinese New Year. This year, her family will spend the festive season in Singapore due to the travel restrictions. Photo courtesy of Beverly Leow

The Covid-19 pandemic has upended long-held traditions for Singaporeans and permanent residents here as measures to restrict social gatherings remain in place and international borders are still closed.

Last month, the multi-ministry task force handling Singapore’s response to the pandemic announced tighter safe management restrictions ahead of the festive season.

Among other things, a daily cap of eight visitors for each household was imposed from Jan 26. Individuals are also encouraged to limit themselves to visiting only two other households a day.

Diners must wear a mask during the tossing of yusheng, a traditional raw fish salad served at Chinese New Year meals. This should be done without any verbalisation of the usual phrases.

In light of the new rules, Singaporeans and permanent residents whom TODAY interviewed said they have planned a more scaled-down affair to ring in the Year of the Ox.

And while those who usually travel across the Causeway to visit family said they are disappointed to not be able to see their family this time round, the silver lining for them is being able to create new traditions with their loved ones who are also in Singapore.


In the last 50 years before the pandemic, Mr Yap Bau Tan would host a big Chinese New Year gathering, inviting up to 200 of his relatives, friends, staff members and business associates for the celebrations.

Usually, the 80-year-old businessman would also hire a lion dance troupe to perform for the guests.

But given the tightened restrictions put in place for the festive season, celebrations this year will be “very scaled down” and Mr Yap will instead be spending time with just his children and grandchildren.

“Of course I’m disappointed, but we must all do our part and be socially responsible... And it's nice for a change to spend the day with just family,” he said.

“We already have the day’s menu planned out, and maybe my wife will start a mahjong session with the children.”

In the last 50 years, businessman Yap Bau Tan would hire a lion dance troupe to perform at a Chinese New Year gathering for 200 of his relatives, friends, and business associates. Photo courtesy of Yap Bau Tan

Chinese New Year celebrations will be kept within just the family, too, for Mr Chia Chor Meng.

The 66-year-old businessman said his family will be spreading out family gatherings with his siblings and close relatives over the three days so that they can keep to the eight-person rule.

Usually, over 20 of them will gather in one place to celebrate the new year, he said.

Unlike other years, his friends will not be visiting this time.

But Mr Chia said he is not too bothered by pared down celebrations.

He already has had more time to catch up with relatives and friends than he usually would since the pandemic has slowed down economic and social activities for most.

“Covid-19 has gone on for more than a year, so the restrictions will not have a big impact because we are used to it,” he added.


Like Ms Leow, other Singaporeans and permanent residents who usually cross the Causeway to visit family said they will miss catching up with their relatives in Malaysia and spending time doing their usual traditions.

Ms Sherrill Gan, 25, who has been travelling to Muar since she was seven years old, said she will miss the communal cooking that her family would do together every year, where all her aunts and cousins will help to prepare meals for the reunion dinner.

“This year my mum will be attempting to cook the reunion dinner,” said the financial advisor. She will be spending Chinese New Year with her relatives who are staying in Singapore.

Although her extended family has kept in touch regularly over WhatsApp, Ms Gan said she was disappointed that they were not able to reunite this Chinese New Year, especially since they have already missed other festive holidays due to the coronavirus.

“The Covid situation definitely made me think back to all the times I could go back to Malaysia and I took it for granted that it would always be a given. It makes you cherish all these gatherings more,” she said.

For undergraduate student Clamus Pang, 25, there is a silver lining to the travel restrictions.

“I’ve always been celebrating Chinese New Year in Malaysia, so I’ve never done it with my friends here in Singapore,” he said.

“This year is quite special because I’ll be able to spend Chinese New Year with my girlfriend’s family as well, so that’s something new.

“There are things that I couldn’t do when I’m in Malaysia, so now I can explore those options.”

Infographic: Samuel Woo

Related topics

Chinese New Year gatherings Covid-19 coronavirus

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