Born and raised in Malaysia, Mazlan is proud of his Malaysian and Asian heritage. He likes to write about its culture and current issues.
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 a family reunion.
The calendar is a lunisolar calendar that follows 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 2021, it is the Year of the Ox and for 2022 it is the Year of the Tiger
Chinese New Year Legend
Based on legend, at midnight 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.
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 a death in the family, you are not allowed to go visiting as this will bring bad luck to your host.
Chinese New Year Celebration in Malaysia
Malaysia is a multi-racial country and the 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, the 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.
2014: Year of the Wooden Horse
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!
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.
Unfortunately, with the current Covid-19 pandemic this practice is temporarily stopped.
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 addition, oranges, dried melon seeds, and peanuts will also be served to visiting friends and relatives.
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, 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.
In the state of Penang, the government will hold a 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.
The 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 the Chinese New Year Celebration in Malaysia.
Links to other Festivals and Celebrations
- Chinese Qing-Ming Festival is now On-Line
Qingming is celebrated by Chinese to remember & make offerings to the dead. Nowadays, younger generations, instead of going to the graves, are turning to cyberspace to offer these rites via online
- Ushering in Year of Dragon - Chinese New Year 2012
According to Chinese zodiac, Chinese New Year 2012 will usher in Year of Dragon. Experts in Chinese Astrology and Chinese Horoscope, will use the five elements of Metal, Water, Wood, Fire and Earth theory to predict one's fortune and event in 2012.
- Tangerines and Oranges : Chinese New Year Symbols
Chinese New Year celebration is a major festival celebrated by Chinese and it is associated with many symbols and customs.It is important to have good auspicious symbols displayed during Chinese New Year.
- What is Diwali and Deepavali. Travel to Malaysia and...
Diwali or Deepavali or also known as the festival of lights symbolizes the victory of good over evil. This festival is celebrated by Hindus all over the world including Malaysia.
- Thaipusam Celebration in Malaysia
Thaipusam is a holy festival celebrated by Hindus of Tamil origin from South India. It is also celebrated by Tamils in countries such as Malaysia and Singapore. It is perhaps the most elaborate and spectacular of all the Hindu festivals.
Lion Dance Went Wrong
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2012 Mazlan A
Mazlan A (author) from Malaysia on May 05, 2012:
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 from New York City, NY on May 01, 2012:
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 .
Mazlan A (author) from Malaysia on March 29, 2012:
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 from USA on March 29, 2012:
I miss Nian Gao and pineapple tart...the best Chinese New Year food. Rated up ..interesting hub