IT'S A JOLLY HOLIDAY!
The Chinese, who celebrate Chinese New Year (also known as the Spring Festival), make up the second largest ethnic group in Malaysia. It’s one of the most important social festivals amongst the Chinese, and as you can imagine, it’s a pretty big celebration in Malaysia.
The festival is based on both the lunar phase and solar time, which is why it falls on a different date each year. A lunar month is about two days shorter than a solar month, so every few years an extra month is added to catch up with the solar calendar.
As it is an important festival among the community, most Chinese businesses grind to a halt for the 15-day festival, as spending time at home with their families is top priority. However, officially, Chinese New Year warrants a two-day public holiday.
SAY WHAT NOW?
It is always good to take the safe route and say Happy Chinese New Year, but where’s the fun in that? If you really want to impress your Chinese friends, or possibly give them a good laugh, try out some of these common greetings:
Gong Xi Fa Cai: Congratulations on your upcoming prosperity
Wan Shi Ru Yi: May everything you wish for be realised
Ji Xiang Ru Yi: May the harmony you wish for be realised
Sui Sui Ping An: Peace and harmony all year round
Chinese New Year, as with all new years, represents the first day of the first month in its traditional calendar. Each year is ushered in with a different animal based on a rotation of 12 zodiac animals: the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig. This year, it is the rooster’s time to shine.
FOR ALL THINGS GOOD
In preparation for the festival, many traditions and customs are carried out in the household, which are meant to generate good luck. Homes are thoroughly cleaned to rid them of inauspicious auras in a bid to appease the gods who are said to make their way down from heaven during this period. Ritual sacrifices of food and paper icons are also offered to the gods and ancestors.
One of the most significant parts of the festival is the Chinese New Year reunion dinner, which happens on the eve of the first day. More often than not, you can find fish and dumplings served during this dinner session as they are said to signify prosperity.
Another famous common dish is ‘Yee Sang’ which symbolises all things auspicious. ‘Yee Sang’ is basically a mixed dish of vegetables, fruits, and fresh or raw fish (salmon is commonly used). Everyone sitting at the dinner table puts their chopsticks into the dish, and together, they toss the ingredients as high as they can while exclaiming ‘Loh Hey’ and other wishes for the year. This custom is said to bring abundant luck and happiness to all present.
PAINT THE TOWN RED
Ever wondered what the significance behind the firecrackers and the sea of red seen during the Chinese New Year festival is? As with most traditions from eons ago, folktales are very much part of them. The beginning of Chinese New Year apparently started with the fight against a mythical beast called the Nian, which directly translates to “Year”.
The beast, which inhabits the seas, is described as an ox with a lion head, and is said to make its way out on the night of New Year’s Eve every year to harm people, animals and property. By some luck it was learned that Nian was afraid of the colour red, loud sounds and fire. Over the years, it became a general concept that the colour red and fireworks repel evil.
If you visit your Chinese friends during this period with your little ones, chances are they will be given out red packets. These red packets, also known as ‘ang pao’, are basically red envelopes containing money, given out by married couples and the elderly to the younger generation. It is said to protect children from evil. Although not popular among the modern ones, Chinese women usually put on cheongsams, an elegant traditional dress commonly made of silk or satin.