Thursday, December 14, 2017 | ePaper

Chinese New Year celebration in Malaysia

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Nusrat Shamrin :
In Malaysia, many nations are living together, celebrating lots of festivals around the year. While sixty percent of total population is native Malay, Chinese people hold twenty percent of the total and thus stand as second majority population in Malaysia. Indian community holds ten percent and people from other races hold the rest. Thus Malaysia is a country of diverse races, cultures and festivals.
Chinese New Year is the most important of the traditional Chinese festivals and is celebrated as the Spring Festival. It is based on the Chinese calendar which complies with the phases of the moon. According to this, Chinese New Year begins on the first day of first lunar month of the Chinese calendar. 2017 is the ‘Year of Rooster’ according to the Chinese Zodiac. This is a year of Fire Rooster, starting from January 28, 2017 (Chinese New Year) and lasting to February 15, 2018.
The Chinese Zodiac, known as Sheng Xiao, is based on a twelve years cycle, each year representing an animal which are sequentially rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. This presentation of animals is based on Chinese Lunar Calendar. Rooster means a male domestic fowl or a cock.
Historically, one day the Gods ordered that animals be designated as signs of each year and the twelve that arrived first were selected. The animal year when a person was born is called his/her Ben Ming Nian (Zodiac Year of Birth). The distinctive zodiacal way of calculating years, based on the lunar calendar, decides that once in every twelve years cycle, people will meet their birth signs. Although it sounds a bit superstitious but Chinese people take their year of birth seriously.
The Chinese believe that the animal ruling one’s birth year has a profound influence on personality and destiny. The saying is ‘The animal hides in your heart.’ The origin of the Chinese New Year festival is thousands of years old and steeped in legends but it is unclear when the beginning of the year was celebrated before the Qin Dynasty. A small scale Spring Festival is said to have been celebrated as early as at the time of the legendary Sage Emperors Yao and Shun.
Chinese New Year is celebrated all around the world in areas where a sizable Chinese population resides. Traditionally, the festival is a family event, everybody travels back home to meet their family and to visit relatives and friends, a practice known as ‘New Year visits.’ Houses are cleaned on the 28th day (of the last month) of the (old) year prior to the Chinese New Year and red trimmings are placed on door-ways and windows to scare away monster Nian as it is afraid of red color. Red banners featuring words like ‘longevity,’ ‘good luck,’ ‘happiness’ and such alike will be displayed at homes. New clothes in the auspicious red color are bought and will be worn for the first time in early hours of the New Year.  Not only does the red color scare monster Nian, but new clothe symbolises a new start.
Another attraction of the Chinese New Year celebration is the Lion Dance. It can be seen on the streets, markets, shopping malls or even a troupe might be invited to perform on private premises. During Chinese New Year festival, Chinese opera and Dragon Dances will be performed in the streets; which is a form of dance intended to scare away evil spirits and bring good luck to the audience.
There are a lot of different legends about how Lion Dance got started. The one I learnt was about a monster lion attacked a village once a year and liked to eat all the food and babies. One day, a monk came to town and tamed the monster lion by tying a red ribbon around its horn. Since then, Chinese believe that the monster lion acts as village guardian and protects everyone instead of eating babies.
Chinese New Year starts with the moon on the first day of the first lunar month and ends on the full moon by 15 days later. On the first day, the eldest and most senior members will be visited. The visits serve to strengthen family ties. There is also tradition of welcoming guests with tea and sweet treats, such as sugared fruits that are supposed to sweeten one’s upcoming year. Sweets and fruits are served in an octagonal tray because the eight sides in Mandarin sounds like ‘prosperity.’ The Chinese give each other oranges as they believe that oranges bring good fortune as of its gold-like color peel. On the second day, the Chinese pray to their ancestors as well as to all the Gods. In honor of the deity, people will eat ‘Wonton,’ resembling the shape of an ingot.
The third day of the New Year is allocated to grave-visiting instead dance programs. The fourth day is basically a continuity of the third day. All businesses will be resumed on the fifth day. The sixth day marks a time to visit temples, relatives and friends.
The seventh day of the first lunar month is named Renri, literally Human Day and is considered to be the birthday of ordinary or common men. On the eighth day, the Fujian people have another family reunion dinner, and at midnight, they pray to the Jade Emperor. The ninth day is the birthday of the Jade Emperor. From the tenth to the twelfth day of the New Year, there is more feasting with friends and family.
On the thirteenth day, a time to diet a bit after so much rich food, vegetarian food like rice and mustard greens are eaten to cleanse the digestive systems. On fourteenth day, preparation will be made for the ‘Lantern Festival.’ The fifteenth day marks first full moon after the Spring Festival and of the New Year, also known as ‘First night of the full moon.’ The day is as well known as Lantern Festival day. Another reunion dinner is held with lanterns and oranges being a large part of the celebrations. It is customary to eat special sweet dumplings resembling the shape of the full moon. These round balls are called ‘Moon Cake’ and made of glutinous rice flour stuffed with sugar fillings, symbolising reunion.
Those not married throw the mandarin orange into river or pond with their name and phone number written on the orange. The guys will use a net to pick-them up and that’s how they find their life partner on this special occasion.
Ang Pow is very common gift in Chinese New Year celebration. It’s a decorated red envelope with money inside as a gift. Another custom in New Year celebrations is that people used to set off fire-crackers to scare away evil spirits and they set off randomly through-out the first fortnight at beginning of the Chinese New Year. n

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