Malaysia’s Open House Culture: A Vibrant Feast
A unique tradition commonly found in Malaysia during festive seasons is the ‘open house culture’. Modern-day open house gatherings promotes unity among Malaysia’s multicultural society through food and feasting!
Here are some of the significant features of open house gatherings in Malaysia.
As an integral part of the Chinese New Year celebration, ang pows are given out by the elderly and married couples to both young children and unmarried adults. To manifest blessings and good wishes of longevity and good health, auspicious colours are used as ang pow packets – a practice dating back to the Qin Dynasty era.
It is believed that the custom is based on a folk tale. The tale speaks of an evil spirit called Sui. Every lunar year, the evil spirit would bestow death upon children by touching their heads. This became a constant occurrence that led to parents worry about the safety of their children and seek a solution.
One worried couple decided to pray to their God. After hearing their prayers, eight magical fairies were sent. To solve this problem, these mythical creatures decided to turn themselves into eight coins. They wrapped themselves in red papers and hid under the infant’s pillow.
When Sui appeared, it was warded off by the beams of golden light that burst from the red papers. This incident became the talk of the town and soon villagers continued with the same practice. even in current times the act of giving ang pows is regarded as a gesture symbolising protection against evil spirits and good wishes to those receiving these bright red packets.
Prior to opening their homes to guests on Deeepavali, Hindus usually decorate their homes with brightly-lit diyas (small oil lamps made of baked clay). Light signifies goodness, wisdom and good luck.
Kolams are often seen at the entrance of Indian homes during the Festival of Lights. The word Kolam means “row of colours”. Being bright decorative designs, they can be made from a variety of materials including rice flour, coloured rice, coloured sand or even flower petals! Even the patterns can vary from a simple geometrical design to elaborate shapes of deities and other impressions. It is believed that this visual form of art is a form of prayer inviting Goddess Lakshmi and asking for blessings.
During the celebration of Hari Raya Aidilfitri, hosts and visitors usually don traditional outfits and join in the revelry!
Traditional attire of both Muslim men and women reflect modesty according to Muslim teachings. For example, Muslim men often wear Baju Melayu and a golden colour songket cloth tied around their waist. The attire isn’t complete without a songkok!
Muslim women, on the other hand, would often pair their headscarves with a colourful baju kurung or a knee-length blouse over a long skirt.
Part and parcel of Christmas among the Malaysian Eurasian community is the inclusion of traditional cuisine. Traditional dishes served in Christmas open houses by this community usually features the spicy devil’s curry. The dish is believed to have its roots in Nyonya and Portuguese culture. The ingredients include chicken, mustard seeds, potatoes, water, large red onion, red chilies, sugar, salt, and vinegar.
Other traditional dishes served are sekku curry (mutton dry curry), sebak (a dish using pork offal) and sugee cake.
On the first day of Hari Gawai, the open house by the Dayak community includes guests taking part in a number of traditional games as part of the celebration. For example, an activity called ‘ngalu pengabang’, encourages guests to tag along with ngajat dancers and the band as they are ushered into the longhouse.
Watch an interesting clip of this tradition here.
In another custom called ‘uti’, guests are asked to open a coconut that is placed on a ceramic plate. Though they are allowed to use a blunt knife, they are not allowed to break the plate. Once open, the coconut will reveal the guest’s heart and fate – white indicates good luck whereas black is a bad omen.
*Featured image taken from New Malaysia Times