Chinese New Year is about a week away. Chinatown in Singapore is transformed, there is peach blossom everywhere, the bright pink fake kind and crystal peach blossom lights have sprouted from the trees. The night market has increased tenfold, the crowds fiftyfold shopping for new year um, stuff. I survive the crush to buy myself some gaudy ang pow envelopes, gold peonies on red and bright gold metallic peach blossoms.
Much like Christmas trees, the cool temperate botanic symbols of this festive season just don't grow here in the tropics. Except the pineapple. Much of the symbolism of things here come from the double entendre of their meaning, so Wong Lai which means pineapple also means 'yellow(gold) arrives'. I discovered this when I asked why there were all these red and yellow paper pineapples festooning the restaurant we were dining in the other night. My dad came home from the market with a Pomelo today, a type of grapefruit, with another word play - 'to have'. There's also the kumquat - also 'gold'. The symbolism can of course be literal, like the bearing of fruit hence the local supermarket stocking up on huge potted fruit laden mini mandarin orange trees for 29.99. I was sorely tempted, I'll wait till after new years when they are on sale.
Coincidentally I found a book the other day Chinese Plant Symbolisms which I look forward to perusing but a quick peek to see if there was anything in particular about New Year yielded a surprise, an entire chapter on anti demon plants. New Year is a time for exorcism of demons apparently and useful botanic material for that include garlic, peach and bamboo. The spiritual roots of this Taoist festival is more about Yin and Yang, the eternal struggle between good and evil, and not so much about it's modern drive for luck and prosperity.
An interesting bit of trivia, bamboo used to be burned because it crackled and made explosive noises, which both frightened demons away and aroused the yang of spring- now substituted with red firecrackers.