To many locals and expats that live in Malaysia, we all know that Chinese New Year is one of the biggest and most important annual holidays for the Chinese and the Chinese community. But what exactly is this holiday?
Chinese New Year, also known as Lunar New Year, marks the start of the new year. Which begins on the second new moon after the winter solstice, and ends on the full moon 15 days later. This holiday is fulls of visits to family and friends, special meals, fireworks and gift giving.
If you’re at a loss on what to do during the Chinese New Year holiday, we’re here to help you! Here are a few Chinese New Year celebrations and traditions in Malaysia during the holidays!
One of the most popular traditions of Chinese New Year is the distribution of ang pow. Which are little red parcels full of money. The distribution of ang pow has crossed cultural lines and is nowadays not only restricted to Chinese locals. It has crossed said cultural borders to the point that Malays and Indians have now adopted it into their own cultural celebrations. Especially during Syawal and Deepavali respectively. In Chinese culture, the red ang pow envelope symbolizes good luck and is thought to ward off evil spirits.
Days leading up to Chinese New Year, places are adorned with red lanterns. Along with the universal slogan of “Gong Xi Fa Cai” – which means “may you be prosperous”. There are usually stalls everywhere selling mandarin oranges as they are very popular during this time of year. In the Chinese culture, mandarins and tangerines are a symbol of prosperity and good luck. Prices are higher during this holiday. In addition, they’re displayed as decorations or given as gifts to many people.
Tossing of Yee Sang
Food-wise, the main dish that is popular during Chinese New Year in Malaysia (and sometimes even Singapore) is Yee Sang. Yee Sang, or the Prosperity Toss, is a teochew-style raw fish salad. It’s believed to bring good health and wealth for the coming year.
In Malaysia, Yee Sang has become so popular to the point that it has been declared as Malaysian heritage food by the Malaysia Department of National Heritage.
The ritual of the tossing of Yee Sang is you and other people to gather around the plate, with each person holding onto a pair of chopsticks and to mix and toss the salad together while they shout “Loh Hei”, which is Cantonese for “toss up good fortune”. The higher you toss the salad, the better the fortune (and unfortunately, the messier the table).
Like any festive occasion in Malaysia, you know that it’s a reason for you to go back home and EAT!!! One of the most important occasions during Chinese New Year is the family reunion dinner. Where families come together and spends their evening together. There’s a legend that goes that on New Years’s eve, it’s tradition to stay up until midnight after the reunion dinner. Then, you’re safe from the evil spirits.
Chap Goh Mei (Lantern Festival)
On the last day of the 2-week celebration, the fireworks and firecrackers are back to tie-up the holiday. “Chap Goh Mei” simply means the 15th day in Hokkien, otherwise known as the Lantern Festival. Nowadays, Chap Goh Mei has a carnival-like vibe with performances that are set up in the middle of town. Traditionally, it’s known as Chinese Valentine’s Day. In Malaysia and Singapore, there’s a tradition where women would write their names and phone numbers on mandarines and throw them into the river for men to scoop up. (It’s essentially a traditional Tinder)
Note:For those that want to join in on the fun, it’s on the 19th of February. And is available to celebrate at these places:
- Esplanade, Penang– on this night there are competitions. Boys need to scoop up the fruits that the girls threw. The boat that contains the most mandarins wins
- Thean Hou Temple, Kuala Lumpur– Every year, thousands of people, both locals and tourists, offer prayers to the three deities: the Goddess of the Seas (Thean Hou), the Goddess of the Waterfront (Swei Mei) and the Goddess of Mercy (Kuan Yin)
- The Quayside, Malacca
- Danga Bay Convention Centre, Johor Bahru
(If you participate, you should throw the mandarin facing the south-east. The best time is to throw it is in between the time of 5:30pm and 8:59pm.)
A highlight that definitely cannot be missed during this period are the Lion Dance acts. In each lion costume there are 2 people and although it looks simple, it’s not an easy job. Especially for the person in the back of the costume. The modernised Lion Dance requires the dances to have extreme physical skills – especially when they jump from pole to pole.
NOTE – To travelers, photographers, youtubers and videographers. Please do not interfere with people when they are praying or performing rituals in temples. Unfortunately, there are people in this world that go around sticking their cameras in people’s faces without their consent to “capture the moment”. Only do so if you get consent from the person, so please respect the people around you and the culture.