Astrologers historically devised the lunar calendar near 300BC during the rule of Emperor Yao for farmers to know when to plant crops and harvest them. Based on the phases of the moon, the Chinese New Year occurs between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, usually during mid-January to mid-February. Celebrated by the Chinese community throughout the world, the festivities is celebrated for 3 days by the busy urban Chinese workers, but as a whole, is celebrated for 15 days. According to legends a monster threatening the Yellow River civilisation disliked noise, light and the colour red.
The beast fled when lion dancers performed to the beat of drums and gongs, homes were lit brightly and many object were painted red. Houses are normally spring-cleaned and painted and all debts settled so as to prepare the beginning of the new year.
A week earlier, special attention is given to various household
gods. Offerings of candy, honey and sticky rice cake are made to the Kitchen God so that he will say sweet things about the family
in Heaven. On the Eve of the New Year, all family members,
including those away from home, are expected to gather for the annual reunion dinner. The first day of the New Year is usually spent visiting close family members and relatives. It is the practice of elders and married couples to give children and the unmarried ang pow – little red packets containing ‘lucky money’.
This act is supposed to bestow good luck on both the giver
and the recipient.
There are also taboos and superstitions. Meals served on the first day are generally vegetarian as serving meat of slaughtered animals is considered bad luck. The use of knives and scissors would mean cutting off good luck, just as the use of brooms would mean
sweeping away the good luck.
Any whit items are shunned as white denotes bereavement and is deemed inauspicious. The second day the families gather to ‘open the new year’, while at work bosses treat their employees to a dinner. In Malaysia, this is a time when Chinese bosses give bonuses even to those employees who are not Chinese.
The third day is called the ‘Squabble Day’ and is said that if one visits a friend on this day, one would quarrel or squabble with the person during this year.
According to tradition, the God of Wealth is welcomed into the household on the fifth day so as to ensure good fortune all year round. The seventh day, said to be the day mankind was created,
is deemed “Everyone’s Birthday”. The Cantonese, mainly in Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh and Singapore, observe this ‘raw and fresh creation’ by eating raw fish salad called yue sang. The eighth and ninth day are devoted to the worship of the God of Heaven and the Jade Emperor. Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy’ is also offered
prayers on New Years Eve, the 9th day and the 15th day of the first moon.
The New Years Celebrations culminate on the 15th day with Shang Yuan Jie, the Taoist festival that honours the Lords of Heaven, Earth and Water.
The Chinese in Malaysia often hold “Open House’, where other races attend and offer greetings or Gong Xi Fa Chai’. Chinese delicacies and drinks are served and red angpows are given to the children . On the fifth night, called Chap Goh Meh, the Hokkien community in Penang celebrates in a big way. Unmarried women throw oranges into the sea to wish for good husbands amid much fun at the Esplande. The Kek Kok Si Temple in Air Hitam, attracts the most pilgrims during the festivities. Kuala Lumpur the City almost empties out. The holidays offer the opportunity for both Chinese and non Chinese to return to their hometowns or go on holiday.