CNY traditions remain alive and kicking

EYE-CATCHING PRESENTATION: Chef Chai suggests slicing the five-spice chicken roulade into 5cm and arranging them into a firecracker formation.

Community leaders reflect how each generation observes and celebrates the Lunar New Year

Chinese communities the world over will be celebrating the Lunar New Year, the most important festival for the Chinese, on January 23, the first day of the first lunar month of 2012.

Traditionally, the celebration of the Lunar New Year commences on the 24th day of the 12th lunar month where Chinese would offer up thanksgiving prayers to the gods for their protection over the past year.

Then come the two relatively important days, the eve of the new year and the first day of the new year, followed by receiving the God of Fortune on the fifth day and offering a prayer to the Jade Emperor of Heaven on the ninth day.

The last day of the new year celebration, which is known as Chap Goh Meh or the Lantern Festival, is celebrated on the 15th day of the first lunar month, which falls on Feb 6 this year.

During the over half-month long celebration, Chinese traditions dictate the observance of certain customs believed to be imperative to a good start and auspicious year ahead.

With modernisation, many customs are no longer practiced, especially by the young Chinese populace, while some common taboos are still being practiced by many.

Among these taboos include no sweeping of the floor on the first day, no black or dark clothes, only talking about good things and refraining from scolding other people.

Woman chief of the Federation of Hokkien Associations of Malaysia, Kapitan Lee Peck Cheng said many Chinese of her generation still practised some of the traditional customs such as no sweeping on the first day and not wearing black or dark coloured clothes.

Certain food like ‘nian gao’ (a glutinous new year cake) and ‘fagao’ (a type of cake which carries the meaning of good fortune) were still on the must-have list of many Chinese families, she pointed out.

“Compared to my mother’s generation, we don’t actually fully follow the customs, but when it comes to the younger generations, some of them are ignoring the customs totally.”

Lee did not rule out the lack of educating the younger generations on the meaning of the traditional customs was the main reason many young Chinese did not stick to the practices apart from other reasons like influences from Western culture.

“Many Chinese parents today seldom demand their children to follow the customs. Their biggest hope, like myself, is that our children would come home on the Lunar New Year eve to have our reunion dinner together.”

As a Hokkien, offering prayers to the Jade Emperor of Heaven on the ninth day of Lunar New Year is still a must for her family.

Lee said many Hokkiens viewed the ninth day as the most important day of the Lunar New Year. The prayer has its origins from a legend where many Hokkiens were saved by hiding inside a sugarcane field during an internal war in China generations ago.

That’s the main reason why sugarcane is the main offering of the thanksgiving prayer which is held on the midnight of the eighth day at the front yard of a house, pointed out Lee.

“Nowadays, many Hokkiens do not hold the prayer at their own house. They would instead offer their prayers at temple, for instance, at the Tua Pek Kong Temple in Kuching.”

Meanwhile, Pemanca Ko Wai Neng felt that with the changing of time, it was inevitable that the younger generations of Chinese did not fully adhere to the traditional customs.

He agreed with Lee that parents as well as senior members of a family should play a more active role in educating the younger generations about the meaning of the customs.

“Not all the customs are superstitious. For instance, Chinese are encouraged to wear red clothes on the first day because bright colours reflect the cheerfulness and happiness of the Lunar New Year, one of the most important celebrations of the Chinese community.”

Ko, a Cantonese, observed that young Chinese in Kuching did not totally object to observing traditional customs.

For instance, many still visited temples on the first day of the Lunar New Year, he said.

Coming from a Christian family, Violet Yong viewed Lunar New Year a good interactive platform with family members, relatives and friends.

The Pending assemblywoman said she would take the opportunity to go around visiting relatives and friends during the new year.

“We don’t really have different or special celebration in the new year. But, of course, like many Chinese families, the reunion meal is a must.”

Although her family did not really stick to the traditional customs, she however would avoid wearing black clothes on new year’s day.

“I try not to scold other people as well because we should not spoil the good mood of the festival. Besides, scolding or talking bad about other people is not a good way for us to start a new year,” said the Hakka lady.