Chinese New Year in KL

Happy Chinese New Year 2014! Today is the forth day of Chinese New Year!

CNY 2014 007

This is my first celebration with my family, all four of us. We have our quiet celebration in the heart of KL, our second home now. My brother comes all the way from SG and we have our first reunion dinner together after 7 years. I would gladly trade all the visitings in the world (along with the red packets) for all four of us to be together every Chinese New Year. And so this year, we did!

Even with many comments about how quiet the city is during this time of the year, I don’t believe it until I experience it myself. When I wait for the fireworks till midnight and expecting them to be as big as during Deepavali or the VMY Week 2014, I am mildly disappointed when the fireworks were so far away, it looks like a sad consolation prize instead. In the years that I am in Miri during CNY, there are massive fireworks and it, I quote a friend, “sounds like a war zone outside [the house]”.

For friends who constantly ask the nagging question: “Why don’t you celebrate CNY in MIri? You’ll miss so much gatherings”. Well, my answer is crude: The glue that ties us is in Singapore! Yes, my grandmother have decided to take a break from new year preparations, and enjoy the ambience of the celebration from a different city country. And our relatives are somehow all around SEA; in KK, Brunei, Miri, Singapore, somewhere in Indonesia. So, it doesn’t really serve the purpose to fork out 4 flight tickets when nobody is in Miri (unless someone wants to sponsor my ticket, thank you in advance!)

Knowing this, we have had our reunion dinner with my grandmother one week in advance, in Miri. My brother misses it, despite being in Miri, as he has a friend’s wedding to attend to, congratulations to the newlywed couple! We don’t have a group picture, much to my dismay, but what I have from the dinner is a picture of a lobster. I learn that time waits for nobody; I am so surprised when my youngest cousin K is already in secondary school, and another cousin E, 8 years younger, is as fluent (if not, more) in Chinese as I am, and is significantly taller than me and . Tall genes must have run in my family (although sometimes it may skip a generation :lol:), which is why at my height, I still insist on wearing heels or platform shoes!

CNY 2014 008

The purpose of the celebration of Chinese New Year is to mark the first day of Lunar Calendar, a Chinese calendar.

According to legend, there is a mythical creature called Nian, which would frequent the village on the first day of the new year without fail. This beast would eat the livestock and crops, and especially little children! The villagers fear this creature and would put food in front of their door to protect themselves. One day, a little child wearing red is exempted from becoming the creature’s latest meal because he is wearing red. The villagers believe that the Nian is afraid of the colour red. They begin to come up with things that it could be afraid of, such as bright light, sound and colour.

So, they relay a message from one house to another in red papers hidden within the food. The message reads that those people who are interested to participate in frightening the Nian away, they would hang red lanterns and red scrolls outside their house as the next new year approaches as a sign. As the new year comes, there are lots of lanterns hung at the front doors. When the mythical beast comes, the villagers are prepared. They dress up in red, light up large red lanterns, use firecrackers to create loud deafening sounds and some wear scary beast costumes to scare the Nian away. And it works, as the Nian left the village and never come back.

This starts the tradition of red packets (aka angpows in Hokkien), fireworks display, lion dance, beautiful red decorations as part of the celebration of the Lunar New Year. In other words, the celebration is initiated by fear of mythical creature and… a myth that it exists. Well, you can read about another myth, where instead of the villagers scaring the Nian away, it is captured by a legendary teacher.

Till this day, there are many objects that symbolise the tradition of Chinese New Year;

  • Red lanterns and red firecrackers are the essential part of Chinese New Year traditions. Although there are no scary mythical creature to scare, these elements are used to scare away evil spirits and bad omen for the year ahead. We used to light up fire crackers at my grandmother’s place, and she would sigh at the mess of the red debris, but refuse to sweep it away. This is a Chinese custom; sweeping during the 15 days of new year celebration represents the chasing of good fortune out of the household.  
Red Lanterns

Red Lanterns

  • Receiving red packets or ang pows (in Hokkien) is one of my favourite part of Chinese New Year as a child. And I like to think that the child in me never grows old, so I still love the gesture. Many many years ago, I keep my red packets for over a year before I opened them. I don’t mind if it’s a ringgit or a hundred, but I could remember the excitement I feel as I receive the packets. To my aunt who says working adult should not be receiving red packets, let me just repeat this: there is no such thing. Ang pows should always be given until the young adult marries.. or reach a really old single age.
Red packets!

Red packets!

  • Lion dance performance is what I miss most when I study abroad. It would act as the mythical beast which moves according to the beating of the drums. The two person manoeuvring the lion head and tail are no more important than the beating of the drums and cymbals at the sidelines. dong dong qiang. They would jump on poles at least a metre high; if they are not careful enough, they may fall and hurt themselves. Fun fact: Did you know lion dance originates from China, but the world lion dance champion is Malaysia?
Lion dance at Pavillion, KL

Lion dance at Pavillion, KL

Lion dance at Mid Valley, KL

Kissing lions; Lion dance at Mid Valley, KL

  • In terms of food, the most significant dish is the yee sang which is a mixture of several ingredients, each with their own significant meaning. Some ingredient includes lime (luck and auspicious value), pepper (wealth and treasures appeal), carrot slices (blessings of good luck), green radish (eternal youth appeal),  white radish (prosperity in business and promotion at work), peanut crumbs (prosperity in household) and more… 
Yee Sang

Yee Sang

  • Chinese New Year cookies are part of the must eat delicacy. We had always have homemade cookies, and I am slowly perfecting some of the cookies that my family and relatives love. This year I bake kuih momo, melting moments, cornflake (chocolate chip) cookies and coffee cookies. According to my cousin JW, I have almost perfected the coffee cookies! According to my friend ZC, the momo is the best among all my failed attempts during university. Well here’s to hoping next year will be a better year, and a year where I can finally learn how to make pineapple tarts for my dad
Handmade Chinese New Year cookies

Handmade Chinese New Year cookies

  • The Chinese have a tendency to associate plain words with words that have similar pronunciations but with an auspicious meaning. One favourite example is the word 福 (Fú), which means good fortune or luck, would be turned upside down as a symbol of good fortune entering or coming into the household. The Chinese translation of the word ‘upside down’ is 倒 (dào) and the word ‘coming or entering’ is 到 (dào), which has the same pronunciation! 

There are a lot of traditions and symbolisms that makes the Chinese New Year in Malaysia so worth celebrating. I love going to the malls and seeing the extensive decorations and efforts they put into the celebration of the new year. And on the bright side, I’ll be celebrating my next Chinese New Year in Miri. February 19, 2015. ❤

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