Penang Hokkien Chinese Community Celebrates Chinese New Year

Penang Hokkien Chinese Community Celebrates Chinese New Year

Penang Hokkien Chinese Community Celebrates Chinese New Year

Penang Hokkien Chinese community celebrates Chinese New Year and typically greet each other with “Keong Hee Huat Chye” or even “Keong”. The Spring Festival, more commonly known today as the Chinese New Year.

Well if you’re not Penang born, no worries. Picking up Hokkien is easy as the whole island and Seberang Prai (formerly known as Province Wellesley) speak it!

Penang Hokkien Chinese Community Celebrates Chinese New Year
Chinese traditionally hang a bright red banner for good luck and fortune for the New Year. Photo: Doris Lim

CHINESE NEW YEAR PREPARATIONS

Chinese New Year starts with the annual house cleaning. Every nook and cranny of the house must be swept with bamboo leaves or a broom in preparation for the New Year. Debts are paid, hair is cut, perm or color. New clothes, shoes, and even handbag are bought.

The red banner or an auspicious ‘chai’ is hung over the front door. The red banner bears well wishes of prosperity and wealth. Some houses have elaborately embroidered heirloom banners, the younger set might hang up a simple red silk banner.

In the homes, a vertical red paper banner with couplets like “big prosperity coming in a big way” or “peace on your coming and going” and is hung.

There is an air of festivities as family members with the matriarch in command get the household in order and plan the meals of traditional festive dishes.

APPEASE THE KITCHEN GOD

In Taoism, it is believed that the Kitchen God also is known as the Stove God is important for Chinese domestic gods that protect the hearth and family.

The Kitchen God must be appeased as leaves the home on the last day of the month to submit his annual report to the Jade Emperor on the behavior of the family.

Penang Hokkien Chinese Community Celebrates Chinese New Year
Tnee Kueh, or Ti Kueh or Nian Gao (Mandarin) is a sweet cake that is made for Chinese New Year. Photo: Doris Lim

For a favorable report, the Kitchen God’s lips are sealed with tnee kueh (sticky glutinous rice cake). He is given a grand send-off only to be welcomed once again on the first day of the Lunar New Year.

On the eve of the Lunar New Year, the family unites for a reunion dinner. This is held annually for family members get together to celebrate. This is a time for laughter, eating and drinking, and merrymaking. Generally, family members’ young and old do not sleep early. To keep awake as they wait for the New Year’s, the family will have a nice time catching up, resting from work and enjoying themselves eating, drinking, playing cards, mahjong, watching festive TV programmes, playing with fireworks or just have a good time chatting with one another.

The must-haves for Chinese New Year is a play on the symbolism of sound and colors which interesting all denotes prosperity and wealth in one way or another.

For the Chinese, working hard and saving money is a must. The older generation may be frugal in daily expenses but for the Lunar New Year, they will spend their hard earned money on good nutritious food.

Chinese course meals are very popular and sought after. Here’s looking forward to 16 days of feasting.

THE REUNION DINNER

The feasting starts with The Reunion Dinner on the CNY eve. Preparing an auspicious feast for Chinese New Year need not be stressful or difficult. Many hotels and restaurants offer a Reunion Dinner Package to attract modern working couples and their families who want to have a great reunion dinner but haven’t skill or time to cook.

Many hotel and restaurant offering buffets meals with traditional ingredients cooked in various styles.

All dishes have auspicious names or use ingredients that sound auspicious. The choice ingredients include fish, fish maw, prawns, abalone, dried oysters, black sea moss (Fatt Choy), long noodles, lotus seeds, ginkgo nuts, dried bean curd, bamboo shoots and lettuce.

Auspicious snacks include Mandarin oranges, ground nuts, roasted pumpkin or melon seeds. The traditionalists believe that by eating eight types of auspicious foods will bestow good fortune upon the family.

Penang Hokkien Chinese Community Celebrates Chinese New Year
Mandarin Oranges are exchanged for gifts, symbolic for Luck during Chinese New Year. Photo: Doris Lim
Penang Hokkien Chinese Community Celebrates Chinese New Year
Red envelopes or Ang Pows come in many beautiful designs. Photo: Doris Lim

1ST DAY OF CHINESE NEW YEAR

The children and younger family members will greet their elders with a hearty Keong Hee Huat Chye! which means “congratulations and prosperity” on the 1st. day of Chinese New Year. In return, the children and single unmarried adults will receive red packets (and pow) containing cash from parents, married family members, and friends.

Penang Hokkien Chinese Community Celebrates Chinese New Year
A huge platter of Yee Sang ready for tossing! Photo: Goh Guok Hwa

MANKIND’S BIRTHDAY

On the 7th day of Chinese New Year is known as Mankind’s birthday“. On this day, Yee Sang, a traditional dish of raw fish, shredded vegetables, lime, pickled ginger and various crunchies or even smoked salmon is used to be mixed and tossed.

The higher the ingredients are tossed with their chopsticks with shouts of “Loh hei”, the greater the prosperity they will enjoy throughout the year.

Penang Hokkien Chinese Community Celebrates Chinese New Year
Chew Jetty has the biggest celebrations during Chinese New Year.

THE HOKKIEN NEW YEAR

On the 8th day, the Hokkiens will rush to the wet markets to buy the essential items needed for the prayers on the 9th day of Chinese New Year.

Known as the Hokkien New Year, traditionalists say that for the Hokkiens, the 9th day is even more important than the New Year itself.

On this day that the entire clan of Hokkiens was spared from being massacred by hiding in a sugar cane plantation. As Thanksgiving to the Jade Emperor, also known as the God of Heaven, a large-scale celebration held.

Sugarcane stalks, roasted pigs, chicken, cooked meats, and fruits are laid out on a long table for offertory and prayers. At the stroke of midnight, firecrackers are set off and the night sky is ablaze with thunderous fireworks and skyrockets.

Penang Hokkien Chinese Community Celebrates Chinese New Year
Decorations at a shopping mall. Photo: Doris Lim

CHAP GOH MEH (Chinese Valentine)

The 15th day is by no means the last or the least significant day. In Penang, the Chap Goh Meh (Chinese Valentine) is marked with the celebration of the Chingay. This is a street parade with acrobats showing off their talent.  Some performers are seen balancing huge flags hung on bamboo poles. The parade moves slowly along the busy streets of Georgetown. The acrobats sway to the beat of gongs, drums, and cymbals. There are lion and dragon dancers and stilt walkers.

When the sun sets, the celebration takes off the golden era off with the Babas and Nyonyas. Long ago Chap Goh Meh parades have young maiden seen riding in cars along the Gurney Drive or Esplanade to throw mandarin oranges into the sea. The young ladies express a  wish to meet a good husband.

The Dondang Sayang troop goes around town in their illuminated buses. The performers sing their pants and serenade the Chap Goh Meh revelers.

Now for the BEST part of being Malaysian. With so many choices, the questions that are on our lips is still…

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