It used to be that with Chinese New Year came the fire-cracker wars before my grandfather was converted as a Christian many years ago. The significance then was to ward off evil from the home.
How I remember we used to begin preparation for them , on Chinese New Year eve morning as boxes of stringed single, double and triple barrel red crackers would be delivered to my grandfather’s house.
My grandfather’s house had a large compound. Next door was a Chinese temple. In the afternoon of Chinese New Year eve, strings of the huge red fire-crackers would be carefully linked and then tied by my uncles to tall bamboo posts of which there would be several rows which would be planted in the ground along the fence of the compound on my grandfather’s home side, and similarly the nuns and priests from the temple next door would do the same on their side of the fence by the evening.
The eager anticipation for the start of the cracker war will be building up all day.
It seemed like an eternity for it would not begin till all the extended family came together for the reunion dinner, and while the elders drank some wine together the children would be letting off smaller versions of crackers in the compound.
C-R-A-C-K! C-R-A-C-K ! C-R-A-CK! they burst as the children scampered away from them to avoid burning fingers or a burst in their faces. These little sound bites seemed like whimpers and would be the prelude to the reverberating explosion of the cracker war. We also tried to cause greater explosions by lighting the small crackers, quickly covering them with used cigarette tins and running away before they exploded in a much louder magnified bang sending the cigarette tin flying away. There would be also shooting rockets and only the older children would be allowed to play these as they had to ensure that the rockets were pointed in the right direction before they were ejected – not at neighbour’s homes, or trees or any one of us for disastrous damage could be the result.
We children in the extended family had to wait for the light up of cracker-war which would take place after the re-union dinner. It would be the motivation for us to gulp down our dinner instead of enjoying the delicacies leisurely as the adults were doing.
It did not occur to us that no matter how fast we finished our dinner, we still had to endure the wait for the adults to finish their dinner – a long table of delicious Peranakaan New Year cooked meat and vegetable dishes in spices, achar the vinegared vegetables, crackling roast pork served with vinegared mustard leaves and sweet black sauce and chilli sauce, fish maw soup and crab meat balls with turnip, pork or chicken black nut with spicy gravy (buak keluak), duck with preserved mustard leaves (itek tim), pig trotters in soya sauce and vinegar and sliced young ginger, pork in soya and preserved beans (babi pongteh), roast chicken (a la roast chicken rice style), pork liver balls (hati babi bungkus), black century eggs with slices of preserved ginger, (pei tan), flour cups ( in the shape of an upside down top hat) filled with turnip/bamboo shoot shredded and cooked with preserved beans, and topped with fine celery, a prawn and the chilli and garlic sauce and black sweet sauce in serving (kueh pie tee), prawn fritters, a mix of vegetables (long beans, carrots, cabbage, tofu,) cooked in coconut milk and spices (sayor lodeh), small plates of the indispensable chilli/prawn paste (sambal belacan) with lime for added savouring, pomfrets and prawns cooked with tamarind and pineapple (udang assam nanas), beef with spices (rending) and cucumber salad with dried prawns and sambal belacan (sambal timun) and sliced pork with sliver of lard, all served buffet style with white or yellow rice or with diners seated at tables depending on the number of family members present and table size. The elders usually would be seated while the younger siblings would eat buffet style. During dinner the food could be downed with Chinese tea.
After dinner the adults would be seated round another smaller table of deserts – all kinds of multi coloured (red, green , yellow, blue ) chewy or light confectionary and delicacies made of different types of flour with coconut, sago and chendol with coconut milk of different shapes and sized. Drinks could be fresh lime juice or beer or wine. .. and as the night was still young, the delicacies were savoured interspersed with political discussion, jokes or just sharing of the past year’s news and experiences.
With bated breath the children would wait in the compound with the best view of the start of the cracker war, far enough not to be hurt by the flying split cracker remnants and exploding din as lighted sparks of crackers of far reach should be avoided to avoid cracker burns.
At the stroke of midnight and the first chime of my grandfather’s clock, the lighted joss-sticks were used to ignite the crackers at one end of the compound and as each ignited cracker exploded, it ignited the next one.. and so on up and down the posts all linked by the strings of crackers for over half an hour till the last cracker on the last post at the other end of the fence exploded and the din ended. There would be like a foot deep of exploded red crackers remnants on the ground around the rows and rows of posts. If the din from the crackers on our side of the fence was not enough, similarly the crackers on the other side of the fence on the temple side were also ignited. Imagine the reverberation it was like a continuous bomb going off and magnified – imagine all the happy children, eyes open wide and fingers in their ears watching and waiting to see who won the war. Did the neighbours from the temple or did my grandfather win the war? The air would be heavy with the smell of gun-powder. Well after the war, we would wait for the next year as the gardener would have a tough time disposing of the cracker remnants the day after Chinese New Year.
What an experience past. Pity the explosion of crackers no longer can be enjoyed on a personal individual basis in Singapore for safety reasons, except when official permission by the police is given for them to be fired by the organizers of Chinese New Year celebrations down by the Singapore River on New Year’s eve midnight and also on the 15th of the first lunar month which would be the end of the celebration of the New Year with the Chingay festival of floats.
What is the spiritual application for me? There is a war going on and the din of battle and the remnants will indicate who the winner will be. Our adversary the devil would like to outlast us but Jesus our Victor can lead us past the sting of death and into glory. What a glorious result that will be. We must persevere to the end for the one that endures to the end will wear the victor’s crown. Glory to the Lord!
Imagine rows and rows of fire crackers going off from posts and the magnified din when you see this U-Tube from just one short string of fire crackers.
Selamat Tahun Bahru semua orang.
In peranakaan patois “Blessed New Year everyone.”
Then to my elders
“Panjang, panjang umor”
Long, long life.