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!
CHINESE NEW YEAR PREPARATIONS
Chinese New Year starts with the annual house cleaning, where 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 coloured and new clothes, shoes and even handbag are bought.
The red banner or an auspicious ‘chai’ bearing well wishes of prosperity and wealth is hung over the front door. Some houses have elaborate embroidered heirloom banners, the younger set might hang up a simple red silk banner.
In the homes, 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, gets the household in order and plans the meals of traditional festive dishes.
APPEASE THE KITCHEN GOD
In Taoism, it is believed that the Kitchen God also known as the Stove God is an important of 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 behaviour of the family.
For a favourable report, the Kitchen God’s lips are sealed with tnee kueh (sticky glutinous rice cake) as 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, a reunion dinner is held for family members get together to celebrate. This is a time for laughter, eating and drinking and merry making. 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 colours 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 for 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.
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” In return, the children and single unmarried adults will receive red packets (ang pow) containing cash from parents, married family members and friends.
On 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 cruchies 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.
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.
This was the day that the entire clan of Hokkiens were 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.
Sugar cane 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.
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 Hokkien community commemorates celebration of the Chingay – street parade where with acrobats showing their talent balancing huge flags hung on bamboo poles. The parade moves slowly along the busy streets of Georgetown, to the beat of gongs, drums and cymbals to lion and dragon dancers and stilt walkers.
When the sun sets, the celebration takes off the golden era of the Babas and Nyonyas when Chap Goh Meh parades has young maiden are seen riding in cars along the Gurney Drive or Esplanade to throw mandarin oranges into the sea while expressing the wish to meet a good husband.
The Dondang Sayang troop still goes around town in their illuminated buses to sing their pantuns and serenade the Chap Goh Meh revellers.
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Where What When To Eat?
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Keong Hee Huat Chye!
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