Chinese New Year or Lunar New Year as some would call it, is one of the biggest festive seasons celebrated in Malaysia. It represents the start of a new Lunar Year, represented by a new zodiac and new beginnings in many aspects. This year, we begin a new cycle in the lunar calendar with the year of the rat!
Celebrations for Chinese New Year are largely similar throughout the world but there are certain elements that remain deeply rooted to a certain country and Good News Malaysia has taken the liberty to guide you through some of the traditions we cherish in this part of the world.
1. Ang Pow
Ang Pow which means red packets in the Hokkien dialect, is traditionally handed out by married couples to children and unmarried adults during Chinese New Year. It symbolises good fortune and blessings, hence the saying Gong Xi Fa Cai, which means “congratulations in gaining fortune”.
The act of giving an ang pow is meant to be a gesture of blessings and the money within the packet is termed as ya sui qian. Traditionally, it is believed that money received on or during the New Year is supposed to suppress evil. Due to the fact that children are more vulnerable to being lured by evil ghosts, adults would use money to drive away evil. In other words, giving out ang pows shows concern and sincere blessings of the elders towards the younger generation.
Did you know that the amount of money in the packet also bears a significance?
It as an age-old custom not to place any amount that signifies number ‘4’ or its variations such as ’14’, ’40’ or ’44’ as it is the homonym for death!
2. New Year’s Eve Dinner
New Year’s Eve dinner remains some of the most important traditions that are still being observed today. It is also known as the family reunion dinner. Known as chu xi ye, it means to get rid of the old and welcome the new. It signifies turning over a new leaf to start afresh and what better way to do that than bonding with your own family?
3. Lion Dance Performance
Perhaps the common tune that reminds us of Chinese New Year is the sound of Chinese drums and cymbals going, Dong Dong Dong Qiang during the lion dance performance. Across Malaysia, it is common to see companies and families inviting a lion dance troupe to perform at homes or business premises.
Believed to bring good luck and drive away evil spirits, there can be variations to this dance performance, some may include stilts, others a story line and there are even ones with side characters.
The highlight (and much awaited!) part of this performance is definitely the plucking of the “green” by the lion to the mighty sound of firecrackers. In Chinese, the word “green” sounds similar to the word ‘fortune’. Usually, lettuce represents the “green” element and other auspicious offerings such as mandarin oranges or pineapples are presented to the lion which prances around before leaping to grab the lettuce and spitting it out for good luck!
4. Mandarin Oranges
Mandarin oranges or tangerines are popular during the Chinese New Year season. Mandarin oranges are pronounced as gam in Cantonese, which signifies gold. Therefore, in giving one another the fruit, it is essentially a gesture of wishing the other person good fortune as it is similar to giving gold. Not to mention, they are absolutely tasty!
5. Lou Sang
Yee Sang, which is a raw fish salad, was brought into Southeast Asia in the 1940s by Cantonese immigrants. First indulged in Singapore, it slowly became a popular Chinese New Year dish and the tossing of yee sang is perhaps the most distinct Chinese New Year tradition practised by the Chinese community in Malaysia and Singapore in comparison to other nations in the world!
6. Bak Kwa
A famous snack enjoyed by the Malaysian Chinese community during the Lunar New Year is bak kwa (barbecued meat typically pork). Bak kwa is also known as ‘long yuk’ in Cantonese, which also means ‘good fortune’.
Its origin can be traced back to Fujian in China, where the Hokkien community would enjoy the treat during Chinese New Year. It is grilled over charcoal for a smoky yet sweet flavour. Over the years, alternative options have surfaced using chicken slices. Instead of square slices, some opt for a smaller serving in the form of meat strips given it is quite addictive in flavour!
7. New clothes (with bold colours, of course!)
New year, new you, right? Festive seasons in Malaysia are always a reason to go shopping for new clothes! The same goes for Chinese New Year with those celebrating and visiting each other donning brightly-coloured attire typically red or yellow to usher in an abundance of prosperity.
8. Auspicious goodies
The Lunar New Year is the perfect time to satisfy some of our cravings for pineapple tarts and love letters!
Pineapple tarts are called Ong Lai in Hokkien which literally means prosperity comes in. As it is a tradition to celebrate good luck and fortune during the New Year, these delicious cookies are a must-have in every Chinese household.
Did you know that love letters are egg rolls which were actually used to convey letters and notes between lovers in the past?
Consuming the roll signifies acceptance of one party of another person’s love and that his or her words are taken to heart. The colour and shape of the rolls represent gold bars which are auspicious to the Chinese and eggs signifies fertility.
Another common food item in Chinese households during this time of the year is Nian Gao, a sweet rice cake. The word “Gao” in Chinese means high. As such, it is believed to signify growth and progress.
*Edited by Archana Patrick
Featured image sourced from Chinadaily.com