Chinese New Year eve at Thian Hock Keng Temple 天福宫 2008
On the Chinese New Year eve, one of the most popular activities after the reunion dinner is to visit night markets and temples. Many Chinese families like to do their prayers on New Years eve or just after midnight to give thanks for the past year and to pray for a successfully, happy and peaceful year ahead.
The Thian Hock Keng Temple and the surrounding areas were decorated and organized to welcome devotees and visitors. The main hall of the temple were decorated with numerous Lanterns of Blessings (祈福灯笼) sponsored by devotees creating a very festival mood.
The main event on the New Year eve was prayers at 11.30 pm followed by dragon and lion dance performances. As the time approaches 11.30 pm, devotees and visitors began visiting the temple. Thian Hock Keng volunteers were manning stores selling offerings required for the ceremony. All the ritual items were packed into an attractive paper carrier giving devotees the convenience of one stop shopping.
While waiting for visitors roamed around the temple and it became an opportunity for cultural transmission. Parents were introducing children to the different deities and their symbolism. For those parents who were not quite sure themselves, every hall has an information board with full information to the history, background and meaning of each deity. Thian Hock Keng Temple is one of the very few temples in Singapore that has this information board and it has proven very popular and useful for vistors. It facilitates the process of cultural reproduction and transmission.
As the time approaches 11.30pm, many devotees were praying and waiting for the ceremony to start.
The ritual began with three Buddhist Venerables chanting and initiating prayers. Behind them were representatives of Hokkien Clan association and Thian Hock Keng Temple and around the hall were devotees.
After the prayers, the God of Wealth 财神 descended into the monastery followed by lion dance and dragon dance group. The God of Wealth went around wishing everyone happiness and success in the New Year. This was followed by dragon and lion dance performances.
The lions ended their performance with a visual display of mandarin oranges on the floor. The center was an auspicious greeting surrounded with oranges shaped into numeric formations for devotees to decipher the numbers. The display was barricaded so that everyone can have their turn to decipher the lucky numbers for their lottery bets. Not everyone was looking for numbers though. Some were just curious while others want to appreciate the display and take a few pictures.
Although it was a Chinese New Year event, the visitors to Thian Hock Keng temple was rather international. There were international media covering the event as well as overseas visitors.
Once again, Thian Hock Keng as a temple and National Monument serves multiple social functions with their Chinese New Year eve event.