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Chinese New Year Celebration in Malaysia

Updated on January 20, 2018
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Born and raised in Malaysia, Mazlan is proud of his Malaysian and Asian heritage and likes to share its mysteries, culture & current issues.

CNY paraphernalias and other decorative items on sale at PJ old town
CNY paraphernalias and other decorative items on sale at PJ old town | Source

What is Chinese New Year?

Chinese New Year, also known as 'Spring Festival' or 'Lunar New Year', marks the beginning of a Chinese calendar and is the most important Chinese celebration. It is also a time for family reunion.

The calendar is a lunisolar calendar that follows the astronomical phenomena. If based on the lunar calendar, Chinese New Year changes each year and has no exact date and falls either in late January or early February. It also defines the twelve-year repeating cycle of the Chinese zodiac and is named after an animal. See the diagram below.

For 2018, it is Year of the Dog. For 2019, it will be Year of the Pig.

The twelve animal signs of the Chinese zodiac
The twelve animal signs of the Chinese zodiac | Source

Chinese New Year Legend

Based on legend, at midnight on every new year, a savage beast, Nian, will arrive to eat the villagers' livestock, crop, and even children. One day, the villagers saw Nian was scared off by a child wearing red. To scare away the beast, loud noises and lights were also used.

Ever since that day, red has been the color associated with the celebration. It is also celebrated with the lighting of firecrackers but it is now very much controlled in most countries, for safety reasons.

Chinese Lunar New Year is also the time for bitterness and disputes to be resolved, debts paid and any ill fortune and bad luck to be cleared away. This is a fresh start to the new year.

Plum blossoms, Chinese New Year symbol of courage
Plum blossoms, Chinese New Year symbol of courage | Source

Chinese New Year Symbolism, Beliefs and Traditions

The Chinese Lunar New Year celebration abounds with many symbols, beliefs, and traditions. Red is the main color for the New Year celebrations so you see people wearing red dresses, hanging red lanterns and anything that is associated with the festival will be colored red.

Flowers such as narcissus and peony, fruits such as oranges, Chinese mythological beast such as dragon, are examples of symbols that have special meaning for the Chinese New Year. These items will be prominently displayed in the homes and offices throughout the celebration period.

Houses will be cleaned on New Year's eve as sweeping and cleaning the house on the first day of the New Year is like sweeping away luck, fortune, and prosperity.

First-day taboo also includes the nonusage of sharp objects like knives. Foul languages and scolding are not to be uttered. If there's death in the family, you are not allowed to go visiting as this will bring bad luck to your host.

2014: Year of the Wooden Horse

Horses were everywhere in shopping centers & in hotels in Malaysia in 2014, as it was the Year of the Horse
Horses were everywhere in shopping centers & in hotels in Malaysia in 2014, as it was the Year of the Horse | Source

Chinese New Year Celebration in Malaysia

Malaysia is a multi-racial country and Chinese make up about 30% of the country's population. Just as Diwali celebration, Chinese New Year is declared a public holiday for the whole country but unlike Diwali, it is a two-day public holiday.

The celebration does not end after this two-day but continues over a 15 day period. It will end with the Lantern Festival or Chap Goh Meh, the Hokkien name that is commonly used in Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia

During this holiday period, the streets in the capital city of Kuala Lumpur will be abnormally quiet. Not only will the Chinese be driving back to their hometown for the family reunion but the other races will take advantage of this long holiday to go on leave. As a result, highway gets congested and every year there will be road accidents.

Construction sites and businesses run by the Chinese will normally close during this period and most will be open only after the fifth day.

Food for the Chinese New Year Reunion Dinner
Food for the Chinese New Year Reunion Dinner | Source

Eve of Chinese New Year

On the eve of Chinese New Year, families will get together for the reunion dinners. This is a very important part of the celebration and all family members are expected to attend. Most families will have this dinner at home but some will opt for dinner in the restaurants. Traditionally, married couples will have this reunion dinner with the husband's family.

Visiting Relatives and Friends

This is the time of the year where youngsters and the unmarried, will be given ang pow, which is a red packet with money inside. So visiting relatives and friends are not just to renew their friendship and bonds but to the youngster, to also collect their ang pows!

Open House

Malaysia is a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural country. During all the major celebrations like Diwali, Eid Fitri and Chinese New Year, people will take the opportunity to celebrate the festivals with the other races by having an 'open house'.

This open house concept is also practiced by the business communities as a form of networking and to say thank you to their stakeholders. Malaysian Embassies all over the world will have this open house to bring Malaysians together.

Chinese New Year cookies: From top left clockwise: peanut cookies, kueh bahulu, kueh bangkit, tart nenas,  nian kueh & spicy mini shrimp rolls.
Chinese New Year cookies: From top left clockwise: peanut cookies, kueh bahulu, kueh bangkit, tart nenas, nian kueh & spicy mini shrimp rolls.

Chinese New Year Traditional Cakes and Cookies

Chinese cakes and cookies for the New Year used to be home baked with preparation and cooking starting as early as one month before the new year. Now, most of the wives are working and it is more convenient to buy from several sellers who are known for certain delicacies. But there are still others who prefer to make their own cakes and cookies.

Among the favorites are kueh kapit (love letters), Kueh bangkit, kueh bahulu, spicy mini shrimp rolls.and kueh tart nenas (pineapple tarts), which are also common cookies during the festivals of other races in Malaysia. Unique to the Chinese New Year celebration are peanut biscuits, and of course nian kueh.

In additions, oranges, dried melon seeds, and peanuts will also be served to visiting friends and relatives.

Busy shopping for Chinese New Year items
Busy shopping for Chinese New Year items | Source

Chap Goh Meh aka Lantern Festival

On the 15th day, Lantern Festival or Chap Goh Meh will be celebrated just as grand as the first day of the New Year. Houses will be decorated with lanterns and lights. Prayers to seek blessings will be made at most temples.

In the state of Penang, Chap Goh Meh is celebrated in a big way. Highlights of this festival are when single women and girls including tourists will throw oranges into the sea hoping to get good husbands.

Some may even write their contact numbers as well as the Facebook account on the fruits and you will see guys busy scouring the sea for these oranges. It is all done in the spirit of fun and festivities.

Chap Goh Meh is often referred to as the Chinese equivalent of Valentine's Day.

Lion Dance

Lion dance, another big event, is performed during the Chinese New Year celebration in many Malaysian Chinese homes, offices and shops. It is believed to welcome good fortune and ward off evil influences.

The dance is a combination of a high degree of agility, strength, stamina and elegance. In order to maintain perfect form, the lion dancers are required to undergo extensive training not just on the complicated lion dancing steps but also in acrobatic and martial arts.

Getting lion dancers to perform at homes and offices are auspicious during Chinese New Year to bring luck and prosperity
Getting lion dancers to perform at homes and offices are auspicious during Chinese New Year to bring luck and prosperity | Source
Chingay procession held during Chinese New Year celebration in Penang
Chingay procession held during Chinese New Year celebration in Penang | Source

Chingay

In the state of Penang, the government will hold the street celebration with delicious food for all visitors. Lion Dance, Dragon Dance as well as Chingay will also be performed.

Chingay used to be a solo flag balancing performance but is now a team act with more than 15 team members. In Malaysia, Chingay is now performed by the Chinese as well as by other races.

Dragon Dance

Dragon dance is performed by team members of 20 carrying the dragon that can measure 100 feet or more. The dance movement mimics that of a dragon.

Be Part of Chinese New Year Celebration in Malaysia

The combination of foods, chingay, lion and dragon dances make the celebration a memorable event of the year. So, make a point of coming over to be part of Chinese New Year Celebration in Malaysia.

Dragon Dance is also another favorite during Chinese New Year Celebration
Dragon Dance is also another favorite during Chinese New Year Celebration | Source

Lion Dance

Lion Dance Went Wrong

© 2012 Mazlan

Comments

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    • greatstuff profile imageAUTHOR

      Mazlan 

      6 years ago from Malaysia

      mizjo, glad you enjoyed this article. I also read your Chinese New Year trip back to Malaysia with the whole clan. That was an awesome article.

    • mizjo profile image

      mizjo 

      6 years ago from New York City, NY

      Hi, greatstuff, I just happened on your blog a few minutes ago. It's really well written and interesting. I love the images you have uploaded too, especially the lion dances.

      I brought my children to Malaysia to celebrate CNY in 2009. It was a trip that will always be dear to our hearts, and I was very happy to find someone else has written about our wonderful tradition. Thanks for sharing .

    • greatstuff profile imageAUTHOR

      Mazlan 

      6 years ago from Malaysia

      When I was in Saint Louis last December, I found them in the Chinese International Market. You may want to check them at your place.

    • jojokaya profile image

      jojokaya 

      6 years ago from USA

      I miss Nian Gao and pineapple tart...the best Chinese New Year food. Rated up ..interesting hub

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