We have reached the point on the calendar again when everyone sees red – but for all the good reasons! Chinese New Year (CNY) is upon us, bringing with it the dissemination of good fortune and a vibrant supply of cultural goodies to enjoy.
2018 is the Year of the Earth Dog (check out what’s in store for your zodiac animal in the following pages) which is ushered in on 16 February. The festivities begin even before that, and last for days. Chinese families start preparations ages ahead, and most businesses like malls and restaurants get on the CNY train early on. Here are some of the marvellous sights, sounds and tastes one can expect to encounter during this truly joyous season.
The Dinner Bell
Considered as a vital component of CNY, the reunion dinner is held on the eve of the New Year. It is a grand affair, when family members far and wide come together to take their seat at a table laden with delicious food.
The more popular dishes served traditionally include dumplings and seafood, with a hearty mix of cuisines in bountiful portions the order of the night. Unique to Malaysia and neighbouring Singapore is the yee sang tradition, which usually transpires just before everyone tucks in.
Yee sang is essentially a raw fish salad with over 20 ingredients including pickled vegetables, chopped peanuts, salmon and Chinese shrimp crackers with plum sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar and kumquat paste drizzled on top.
For a prosperous year, everyone gathers around the bowl of yee sang and tosses the salad using chopsticks, while yelling out propitious expressions. The belief goes that the higher you toss, the more luck you’ll get. It is a dish available at most Chinese restaurants not just during the reunion dinner, but throughout the CNY celebratory period.
Pop And Bang
As with most major celebrations, fireworks are set off by the thousands as an illustrious way to mark the beginning of a new year. It’s only fitting in this case since fireworks were invented in Imperial China! As it is thought that the daunting explosions scare off evil spirits, the pyrotechnics serve as a weapon against bad luck too.
In similar vein, firecrackers are lit to shoo away malevolent spirits, so they are must-haves at homes and businesses. They are natural accompaniments during a lion dance as well.
If you have not witnessed a lion dance performance in person, do not miss this chance! Seen all over the country during this period, the dance involves an entire troupe – a large fraction of which play the percussion heavy music, while a couple of highly skilled dancers under an elaborate lion costume elegantly execute jaw-dropping acrobatic dance moves.
This engaging show reels in good luck for the establishment on which it is staged, and food items such as mandarin oranges and lettuce are often incorporated into the act for a more colourful performance.
Red, red and more red is the way to go when it comes to decorations. The colour is associated with good fortune and happiness, and therefore takes dominance, liberally present in traditional ornaments such as lanterns, fans, floral arrangements, upside down fu (diagonal squares), dui lian scrolls and other striking adornments you come across in the malls and homes you visit.
You would be hard-pressed not to notice a splash of crimson wherever you look. Even ang pow packets, or money envelopes, handed out at get-togethers during this festive period are red in colour.
A heart-warming festival practice that is widespread in Malaysia, an open house is pretty much what it says on the tin. Whether it is a relative, a neighbour, a friend, a business or even a community centre playing host, the promise is the same: good food and good times.
CNY open houses are definitely something to experience, and all you need to do is to show up and be a good guest. In return, you will be rewarded with traditional snacks, a hearty meal, and – if you’re lucky – an ang pow packet to hold dear!
While it is reserved for the Spring Lantern Festival overseas, the 15th, and last day of CNY in Malaysia is focused on Chap Goh Meh. Known as the Chinese version of Valentine’s Day, this is when eligible bachelorettes pen their contact details on a mandarin orange prior to casting it into a body of water.
The hope each girl holds is that it will be retrieved by her other-half-to-be, as single men also on the lookout for a future partner brave the wet to scoop up a potential date!