Monday, May 7, 2012

A Festival to Remember: Lunar New Year in Malaysia

Chinese New Year or better known as Lunar New Year is widely celebrated in Malaysia. During the days approaching Chinese New Year, there will be an exodus of cars from all over the country to my hometown. This is because there’s a huge ethnic Chinese population residing in Penang, my home State. 

The outstation or overseas Penangites (Penang people are colloquially called) will be back to usher New Year together with their family members.

Kek Lok Si Temple lighted up for Lunar New Year

On the eve of Chinese New Year, the traffic during the evening is said to be less congested as compared to normal days. This is because most of the ethnic Chinese would be busy having reunion dinners in their respective family homes. Reunion dinner is viewed as one of the highlights leading to Chinese New Year. 

It is an important occasion for the Chinese as it provides a venue for family members to meet and to foster closer ties with each other. Family members from all over the country would meet to have a meal together. 

A typical reunion dinner at home comprises traditional dishes like Kiam Chye Ark (Duck in salted vegetable soup), Peranakan curry chicken, Jiu Hoo Char (Dried cuttlefish fried with mixed vegetables and mushrooms), abalone with pig’s trotter soup, Lor Bak, pickled fish or pickled lemon.

When I was young, the best part of reunion dinner was playing with firecrackers after a sumptuous meal at night. At that time, the display of firecrackers was not prohibited in Malaysia. Even after the ban in Malaysia, firecrackers can still be heard exploding with unending intensity in my city. It is customary for the Chinese community to start the New Year with a big BANG followed by prayers to welcome good tidings for the year. 

On the first day of the Lunar New Year, most Chinese will visit their relatives and give “Ang Pow” (red packet) to the unmarried member of the family. “Ang Pow” with cash inserted in the packet, represents good luck to the receiver. Money in the form of the word “four” (e.g. 4, 44) is not given because it is deemed inauspicious.

Lion Dance 

The corporate sector also adds to the merriment by inviting lion dance troupe to perform during Chinese New Year. It is a belief that lion dance wards off bad omen and the performances seldom fail to amuse the crowd. The lion performing acrobatic stunts on poles, prancing around and finally unfurling from its mouth a banner wishing the crowd a happy and prosperous new year was exciting to watch.

“God of Prosperity”

On the ninth day of the Chinese New Year, the Hokkien community in Penang celebrates “Thi Kong Seh” or “Jade Emperor God”. The festival is to commemorate the Hokkien’s escape from the invading force by their hiding in a field of sugarcanes. 

Thus, the significance on the presence of sugarcane stalks decorating the table, offering a variety of delicacies to the deity. Prayers will begin at midnight with devotees in their New Year attire asking for blessings and luck for the year ahead from the deity.

During Chap Goh Meh

The fifteenth day of the Chinese New Year heralds the end of the festival. In Penang, the Hokkien Chinese celebrated “Chap Goh Meh”, in Fujian dialect meaning the fifteenth night. It is also a State tourism event celebrated with the usual pomp and festivities. The unmarried ladies seeking prospective husbands will line the sea carrying basket of mandarin oranges with their names and contact numbers on the oranges. 

On the other side, the guys in “sampan” or small boats will try to net the oranges thrown into the sea by the pretty maidens. It is a fun-filled event with many participants and spectators. Occasionally, the oranges end up in the hands of the old uncles or aunties watching and waiting at the shore. The oranges collected probably ended up in their respective mouths. 

(This article was written by me as an ASEAN-Korea Weblog Correspondent. You can find various interesting articles on various countries in ASEAN and Korea in this link.)

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