You know it’s Chinese New Year season when those all-too-familiar festive ditties start blaring from supermarkets, shopping malls and any other public space in Singapore equipped with speakers.
As much as we poke fun at the “dong dong qiang” earworms, Chinese New Year songs never fail to stir up a rousing atmosphere and spirit of celebration. Akin to pussy willows adorned with ornaments, yusheng platters and endless angbaos, these anthems are nothing short of absolute CNY staples.
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This is the song that starts off with the familiar “每条大街小巷, 每个人的嘴里 (měi tiáo dà jiē xiǎo xiàng, měi gè rén de zuǐ lǐ)” line, meaning in every major road or small lane there is, there’s one saying in everybody’s mouths. Followed by “见面第一句话, 就是恭喜恭喜 (jiàn miàn dì yī jù huà, jiù shì gōng xǐ gōng xǐ)”, which means the first thing everyone says upon meeting each other is “恭喜恭喜 (gōng xǐ gōng xǐ)”, or congratulations/Happy New Year.
Multiple strings of “恭喜, 恭喜, 恭喜你呀!” then ensue.
Alright, the title of this article is “Songs Besides Gong Xi Gong Xi” but we couldn’t help but include this indispensable anthem. Better yet, there’s a new-age animated twist to it featuring adorable mouse cartoons to celebrate 2020 – the Year of the Rat. Move over, Baby Shark!
Translated literally, this song’s title means “big Earth returning springtime”. The saying actually means the seasonal rejuvenation of Spring though, and the lyrics are filled with vivid imagery of blossoming flowers – 枝头朵朵花如锦, (zhī tóu duǒ duǒ huā rú jǐn), birds flocking to their nests – 燕子归来寻旧巢 (yàn zi guī lái xún jiù cháo) and bees buzzing as they collect pollen – 蜜蜂嗡嗡采花粉 (mì fēng wēng wēng cǎi huā fěn).
To “招财” (zhāo cái) is to beckon fortune into your life, while “进宝” (jìn bǎo) essentially means the entrance of wealth and treasures. Put together, this is one heckuva prosperous and auspicious song, the chorus of which just keeps repeating “招财进宝” (zhāo cái jìn bǎo) over and over again in varying dragged out tones.
One of the most recognisable CNY ditties, even folks who aren’t well-versed in Mandarin find it hard not to sing along to “财神到, 财神到, 财神到我家的大门口” (cái shén dào, cái shén dào, cái shén dào wǒ jiā de dà mén kǒu) – literally meaning God of Fortune is here, God of Fortune is here, God of Fortune has arrived at my doorstep. After all, to be graced by the Cai Shen right outside our home is no doubt a universal sentiment!
Besides evoking an undeniable CNY vibe as the lyrics paint the scene of popping firecrackers, this song also contains heartwarming well wishes for the new year. One line in particular, “回看往事如烟, 痛苦辛酸 (huí kàn wǎng shì rú yān tòngkǔ xīnsuān)” speaks of how we look back upon the pain and heartbreak of the past. The verse is rounded off with “期望从今万事如愿 (qī wàng cóng jīn wàn shì rú yuàn)”, meaning to hope that all will go well from here on out.
The lyrics are actually “咚咚隆咚锵” (dōng dōng lōng dōng qiāng), which onomatopoeically describes the way festive drums and cymbals sound. I’ve been Googling “dong dong dong qiang” to find this song, who would’ve thought that the title is simply the New Year’s greeting “恭喜发财” (gōng xǐ fā cái) – which also means congratulations, may you prosper.
The lyrics of this cheerful tune just spell excitement for CNY activities to come. The singer lists out eating well and dressing snuggly – “吃得饱来穿得暖” (chī dé bǎo lái chuān dé nuǎn), and having a blast singing all the songs and telling all the jokes that you want – “谁有歌儿就能唱呀, 谁有笑话就能讲呀” (shéi yǒu gē er jiù néng chàng ya, shéi yǒu xiào huà jiù néng jiǎng ya). Now that’s what I call positive vibes!
That’s right, there’s a 大拜年 (dà bài nián, meaning big New Year’s blessings) AND a 小拜年 (xiǎo bài nián, meaning small New Year’s blessings). Contrary to assumption, they are in no way related and are wildly different in terms of both melody and lyrical theme. The “little” counterpart is a faster-paced tune detailing well wishes to the family as we go on bai nian house visiting trips.
If there’s one keyword your keen ears were to pick up, it’d be the 红包 (hóng bāo) within 石油红包 (shí yóu hóng bāo). Every CNY celebrator’s best friend and arguably one of the most anticipated aspects of the entire affair, angbaos make up the bulk of this song’s lyrics. “左一包, 右一包, 包包都是大红包” (zuǒ yī bāo, yòu yī bāo, bāo bāo dōu shì dà hóng bāo) – meaning one on the left, one on the right, each one a great big angbao. Sounds like a dream come true!
The title of the song means the knocking of gongs and drums, so you already know you’re in for some heart-thumping beats. Lyrics like “前面呀打着锣呀, 后面打着鼓” (qián miàn ya dǎ zhe luó ya, hòu miàn dǎ zhe gǔ) – which means beating a gong in front, beating drums at the back – also make us realise that a central theme of addictive CNY songs, besides repetitive lyrics, is presenting common motifs in various directions.
Going character by character, 万年红 (wàn nián hóng) literally means ten thousand years of redness. Red is undoubtedly the main colour people associate with CNY, so this saying means timeless New Year’s blessings and festive positivity as streets and homes are decked out in bright crimson staples. Also a colour symbolising radiance and abundance, greeting someone 万年红 (wàn nián hóng) also bestows upon them a year-long wish of CNY-level joyousness.
Young Me used to think this Chūn Lián Hóng song meant “Spring face red”, with the middle character being 脸. Turns out, the correct characters are “春联红”, which translates to “Spring festival red”.
In actuality, the song title meaning leans towards how the sight of red decor marks the arrival of Spring and thus, the arrival of yet another Lunar celebration. Similar to the previous point, which shows that the colour red is another common theme for CNY tunes.
Some songs tell an entire story within just the title, and “今年要比去年好” (jīn nián yào bǐ qù nián hǎo) is one of those cases, translating to “this year will be better than the previous”. The lyrics tell of how each year will be the greatest one yet, in terms of prosperity, health, happiness and even harmony plus everlasting love between couples.
Think of “Welcoming the springtime flowers” a.k.a “迎春花” (yíng chūn huā) as a melodious ode to fresh and bountiful blossoms in the season of Lunar New Year. The verses go into vibrant descriptions of floral blooms, capped off in the chorus by an ultra poetic line which goes “春花永远为我们开” (chūn huā yǒng yuǎn wèi wǒ men kāi), meaning springtime flowers will forever bloom for us. Metaphorically, the underlying message is that blessings will always be in our favour and our deepest desires are set to come true.
“迎春” (yíng chūn) means welcoming Spring, and “接福” (jiē fú) means receiving fortune. The song lyrics comprise striking parallels between springtime imagery and CNY well wishes, for example the blossoming of flowers compared to the bright smiles of happy celebrators and the springtime rain compared to good luck and prosperity being showered upon your loved ones.
If you’re stuck in a party pooper rut and can’t seem to muster up festive cheer this year, just give this tune a listen. One of the first lines, “多少人盼望春的消息, 那是因为春天太美丽” (duō shǎo rén pàn wàng chūn de xiāo xī, nà shì yīn wèi chūn tiān tài měi lì) is set to lift your spirits and get you excited for the annual affair.
The meaning of the verse is as follows: “How many people are there who look forward to the arrival of Spring, that’s because springtime is the most beautiful”.
新年歌儿大家唱 (xīn nián gē er dà jiā chàng) means “New Year’s song, everybody sing!”, and as far as song premises go, it honestly doesn’t get more wholesome than that. You’d probably recognise the tune as one of those golden oldies your grandparents played on loop using VCD players and stereo speakers – a real blast to the past.
If you have any relatives or friends obsessed with the prospect of being as huat – or prosperous – as possible, this would be the soundtrack to their CNY. “恭喜大家发大财” (gōng xǐ dà jiā fā dà cái) literally means to congratulate or wish everyone to strike it rich, obtain large amounts of wealth, stumble upon huge fortunes etc.
There’s also a lyric which goes “红包拿来，红包来呀喂” (hóng bāo ná lái, hóng bāo lái ya wèi), meaning “hand over the angbao, hand over the angbao now”. Oh, how we wish we could be this direct with our relatives.
Whether your task is to pump up the party or contribute background music while friends and family are playing mahjong, bing on snacks and partaking in general merry-making, this playlist of Chinese New Year must-have songs have got you covered.
Happy New Year, and may the Year of the Rat be one of health, wealth and happiness for you and your loved ones!
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