Chap Goh Meh Celebrations in Malaysia
Chap Goh Meh to the Peranakan Chinese literally means the fifteenth night.
The 15th day of the Lunar New Year is called Yuan Xiao Jie (元宵节), which means Prime Night Festival.
The Chap Goh Meh is also known as the Lantern Festival, which can be confusing.
The celebration of the Mid-Autumn Festival is known as the Lantern Festival in Malaysia and Singapore.
On the night, with the full moon shining down, young ladies of marrying age venture out to popular sea promenades to throw oranges into the sea, in the hope of finding their true love.
What Is Chap Goh Meh And Why Is It Important?
Chap Goh Meh is a night of courtship.
Back in the day when Chinese maidens are not allowed to venture out on their own unaccompanied by a chaperone, matchmakers or marriage brokers are the go-to to find a suitable marriage partner.
On Chap Goh Meh nights, the young women would be taken to throw oranges into the sea.
Young men looking for a suitable life partner would take mental notes and their families would arrange for a matchmaker to make a proposal.
This was a charming time when love is written on an orange.
What is the origin of Chap Goh Meh?
According to legends,
“There was a beautiful crane that flew down to earth from Heaven and it was killed by some villagers.
This angered the Jade Emperor as it was his favorite crane and he planned a firestorm to destroy the village on the 15th lunar day.
The villagers were in turmoil when a wise man suggested them to hang red lanterns and explode firecrackers on the streets, which gave off an appearance of being on fire.
The Jade Emperor, being tricked into thinking the village was already ablaze, decided not to burn it down.
From then on, people celebrated every 15th lunar day by repeating the act of carrying lanterns and exploding firecrackers.”
Chap Goh Meh Lanterns
The Lantern Festival, also called Yuan Xiao Festival, is a holiday celebrated in China and other Asian countries that honor deceased ancestors on the 15th day of the first month (Yuan) of the lunar calendar.
The Lantern Festival aims to promote reconciliation, peace, and forgiveness.
In ancient times, the lanterns were fairly simple, and only the emperor and noblemen had large ornate ones.
One of the main activities during Chap Goh Meh is to solve riddles written on the elaborate lanterns.
There are even competitions held in order to see who has the biggest or the most intricate lanterns.
In the early days, young people were chaperoned in the streets in hopes of finding love.
Marriage brokers acted busily in hopes of pairing up couples.
The brightest lanterns were symbolic of good luck and hope.
In modern times the festival is more of a celebration as marriage brokers are now replaced by Dating Apps.
Source: Wikipedia -The Lantern Festival
Is Chap Goh Meh the Chinese equivalent to Valentine’s Day?
Many singles would write their name and contact details on the skin of mandarin oranges and hope this ancient practice will attract a suitable partner of the opposite sex to scoop up the “love orange” and make contact.
Chap Goh Meh is also known as the Chinese Valentine’s Day.
Not wanting to break with the age-old Chinese tradition, many single women look forward to throwing oranges into the sea, hoping to find love on Chap Goh Meh night.
In the past, young Chinese ladies would throw mandarin oranges with their phone numbers written on the oranges into the sea; wishing for a good match.
Decades ago, the Chap Goh Meh Celebration is a coveted event where unmarried Nyonya women could go out accompanied by a family member.
They would dress in their best kebayas to either to throw oranges or to meet their sweethearts.
Your mother and aunts may tell you stories that they would hope that a prospective suitor will pick it up and get in touch.
Back in the day of your grandmother’s time, it was more of getting a marriage broker to find a suitable match.
Our grandparents’ time capsule version has a charming feel is far more romantic than swiping on Dating Apps on your mobile phone.
The Throwing of Mandarins during Chap Goh Meh
In ancient times, females of marriageable age were not allowed to step out of their homes except on this day where the emperor had decreed everyone must carry a lantern and go out to deceive the God of Fire.
As time pass, many young ladies would take this chance and make their way to the temples, dressed in their best, with the hope of finding prospective suitors.
Young men would gather around in the hopes of catching a glimpse of a potential match.
There was hardly a chance to seize an opportunity to get to know the lady in person.
Catching glimpses and exchanging smiles would quicken hearts and pulses in those days.
Legend has it that on this day, a matchmaker from the moon would tie red strings of destiny on their legs, binding them together for life.
A match made in heaven is one that will carry you through your days here on earth.
If a young man finds someone to his liking, he then hires a matchmaker to act on his behalf for the lady’s hand in marriage.
The throwing of mandarin oranges into the sea by single women is without a doubt the most popular and colorful moment of the Chap Goh Meh festival.
Interestingly this practice is originated from Penang Island in the 19th century.
Chap Goh Meh wishes for the 15th day of Chinese New Year
Most wishes are happy and jovial,
- “Best of Luck”
- “May you find your life partner.”
- “Wishing you love and affinity.”
- “Happy Chap Goh Meh”
Chap Goh Meh & Peranakan Pengat
The Peranakan Chinese in the tradition of Babas and Nyonyas, mark this night with an ancestral prayer.
Pengat is a traditional sweet dessert that is traditionally made and served on Chap Goh Meh.
The Pengat is sweetened coconut broth with several differences from the more common Bubor Cha Cha sold at hawker centers.
Bubur Cha Cha’s ingredients include root vegetables with the addition of brightly chewy stretchy tapioca gems and sago pearls.
I couldn’t agree more. In my family, we won’t make Pengat until and unless we have the prized Pisang Rajah. This is an expensive banana prized for its sweetness and aroma.
Other types of bananas like Pisang Mas and Pisang Berangan don’t quite make the cut in terms of flavor and texture.
Most importantly please don’t use the common Cavendish bananas (found in all hypermarkets) for this dessert.
While the Peranakans in Singapore and Malacca use Gula Melaka, the Penangites use white sugar in their version.
I personally prefer to use white sugar as this doesn’t overpower the fragrance of the Santan. When it comes to the Santan broth, a light boil will ensure that it doesn’t “pecah minyak”.
As all the ingredients are pre-cooked, I prefer to just heat the thick Santan through and add the syrup to serve.
The consistency of a perfect Santan broth is thick with the flavors from the Coconut Milk.
The Chap Goh Meh Pengat is more elaborated in the number of ingredients which include precooked root vegetables cut diagonally.
- Yellow Sweet Potatoes
- Orange Sweet Potatoes
- Purple Sweet Potatoes
- Yam or Taro
- Black-eyed Peas
- Sago pearls
- Tapioca Jelly Gems
- Nain Gao or Thnee Kueh (Kueh Bakul)
- Fresh thick Coconut Milk
- Knotted Daun Pandan (Screw pine leaves for flavoring)
The main ingredient is Thnee Kueh (Kueh Bakul) which is cut in the same diamond shape as the other ingredients and added to the dessert.
To heat the Santan Broth, add coconut milk, salt, granulated sugar, knotted pandan leaves.
Stir and heat through and be careful not to let the Coconut Milk come to a BOIL.
Chap Goh Meh Celebrations
On Chap Goh Meh, the family members gather together to have a meal.
Once dinner is over, the locals will gather at temples to celebrate the last day of Chinese New Year.
If you drive around you will see many homes and temples gaily decorated with red lanterns and bright lights to mark the end of the Chinese New Year celebrations.
You will witness cultural performances, lanterns, lion dances, firecrackers, and beautiful fireworks.
Chap Goh Meh Match Making
One of the fun activities that people will normally do is match-making.
Young unmarried ladies will throw mandarin oranges into the sea/river/stream.
Back in the days, women believed that throwing mandarin oranges into the sea on this day will bring them a good spouse.
Chap Goh Meh Ditty
Throw good orange land good husband.
Throw good apple, find a good wife.
Throw a stone; build a “bungalow house”
Throw a red date (fruit), good things abound
Source: Sylvia Toh Paik Choo, The Complete Eh, Goondu! NATIONAL BESTSELLER From the Guru of Singlish
Where are the hot spots to toss an orange on Chap Goh Meh?
This activity is popular in Penang and around the Klang Valley. You can see young people at the seaside promenade having fun throwing oranges.
About 10,000 people are expected to turn up for the traditional orange-throwing session at the Esplanade, Penang where single women throw the fruit into the sea in the hope of finding true love.
- Taman Jaya Lake, Petaling Jaya
- Taman Tasik Permaisuri, Cheras
- Tanjung Harapan
- Gurney Drive
- Karpal Singh Drive
- Straits Quay’s By-The-Sea
- Kwang Yin Tong, Ipoh
Throwing an orange and wishing for a life partner is only for Chap Goh Meh.
For this one night, hundreds of mandarin oranges bob in the water, carried by the waves, and hopes to reach the right person.