Chinese New Year, which will fall on 16 February 2018, is celebrated by the Chinese all over the world. It is also known as the Lunar New Year as it is based on the lunar calendar as opposed to the Gregorian calendar in Western countries. In Malaysia, the first two days of the Chinese New Year celebration are public holidays.
2018 is the year of man’s best friend, or the Year of the Dog, according to Chinese astrology. The celebration starts with the new moon on the first day of the Lunar New Year and ends on the full moon, 15 days later. The 15th day of Chinese New Year (or Chap Goh Mei) is observed with a lantern parade in Chinese communities.
The origin of this celebration dates back to early Chinese civilisation 5,000 years ago. The word Nian, which means “year” in Chinese, was originally the name of a ferocious beast that preyed on people on the eve of New Year. To scare Nian away, the people pasted red paper decorations on windows and doors, and set off firecrackers, as Nian was afraid of the colour red, the light of fire and loud noises. Therefore, at the beginning of every year, they repeat these rituals which have been passed down from generation to generation.
Legend also has it that the ancient Chinese asked a lion for help. The lion wounded Nian, but it returned a year later. This time, the lion couldn’t help as it was guarding the emperor’s gate. So, the people used bamboo and cloth to fashion an image of the lion. Two men crawled inside, pranced and roared, and frightened Nian away. This explains the Lion Dance, one of the most impressive sights during Chinese New Year.
The phrase Guo Nian, which may means, “survive the Nian”, is used to mean “Celebrate the (New) Year”. The word Guo in Chinese means “to pass”. Today, red paper decorations and firecrackers still signify the cheerful Chinese New Year period.
CHINESE NEW YEAR CELEBRATION IN MALAYSIA
The New Year season starts early in the twelfth month of the previous year and lasts until the middle of the first month of the New Year.
In Malaysia, Chinese New Year preparations begin a month before the actual celebration, when the Chinese shop for decorations, food, drinks, new clothing, groceries and titbits. Chinese New Year songs are heard in shopping complexes which attract customers with many seasonal sales and promotions. Chinatown at Petaling Street is an ideal place to experience the excitement of the pre-festive celebration.
It is customary to spring clean the house and symbolically sweep away any trace of bad luck to make way for good luck and fortune. Some families even renovate their houses or give them a new coat of paint. After that, the houses are decorated with paper scrolls bearing verse couplets inscribed with blessings and auspicious words like happiness, longevity, and wealth.
Long before the eve of Chinese New Year, people living far away from their families make their journey home. Traffic jams build up on highways while airports, bus terminals, and train stations are normally packed.
No matter how tiring the journey may be, family members are expected to gather around the table for their Chinese New Year eve reunion dinner, the most important meal of the year. After dinner, they spend the night playing cards, watch TV programmes dedicated to the celebration, or just have a good time catching up with each other.
On the first day of Chinese New Year, ritual homage is offered to ancestors and reverence paid to the gods. New clothes are worn and younger family members greet their elders saying Kong Xi Fatt Chai (Mandarin) or Kong Hei Fatt Choi (Cantonese), meaning “congratulations and prosperity”. The ang pow, a red envelope with cash, is given by married couples to children and unmarried adults.
The seventh day of Chinese New Year is known as “everybody’s birthday”. On this day, the Chinese eat yee sang, a combination of raw fish, pickled ginger, shredded vegetables, lime and various sauces. This meal is supposed to bring prosperity and good fortune to those who eat it.
On the eighth day, the Hokkien-speaking community pray to Tee Kong, the God of Heaven at midnight. On the ninth day, numerous offerings are set out in the forecourt or central courtyard of temples to celebrate the birthday of the Jade Emperor. The 15th day is Chap Goh Mei which marks the official end of Chinese New Year.
During the Chinese New Year period, many Chinese families often receive visitors at home. Relatives and friends, regardless of their race and religion call on one another, exchanging good wishes and gifts like tangerines (called Kam in Cantonese, meaning “Gold”) and other traditional New Year delicacies.
The Chinese New Year open house, like other major celebrations in the country, is also held on a national level to enable all Malaysians and tourists to enjoy the cultural event. The Malaysian open house concept bears testimony to the fact that tolerance and mutual respect prevail in this multi-racial country.
Through the customs and traditions of Chinese New Year, the spirit of peace, good health, happiness and prosperity is engendered and spread among people.