- Category: Festival
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Chinese New Year, Lunar New Year, or Spring Festival is the most important of the traditional Chinese holidays. It is the longest and most important festivity in the Chinese Lunar Calendar. A time for family reunions, the lion dance, firecrackers, mahjong, mandarin oranges and giving/collecting ang pow, the Lunar New Year - or Chinese New Year (CNY), as it is more commonly known in Malaysia - highlights some of the most fascinating aspects of Chinese tradition and rituals.
Its origin can be traced back thousands of years, to the legend which tells of a fearsome mythological creature known as Nian that is said to have once terrorised China, devouring people on the eve of CNY. To ward off the beast, red-paper couplets were pasted on doors, firecrackers were set off throughout the night, and huge fires were lit.
Today, the prevalence of the colour red, and firecrackers, form part of the CNY celebrations throughout the world, as a part of custom and tradition.
The festival, which once also marked the beginning of spring in China, begins on the first day of the lunar calendar year, the first day of the new moon, and ends on the 15th day, known as Chap Goh Meh, the last day of the full moon. In Malaysia, the first two days are gazetted as public holidays.
On the days before the New Year celebration Chinese families give their home a thorough cleaning. It is believed the cleaning sweeps away the bad luck of the preceding year and makes their homes ready for good luck. Brooms and dust pans are put away on the first day so that the newly arrived good luck cannot be swept away. Homes are often decorated with paper cutouts of Chinese auspicious phrases and couplets. Purchasing new clothing, shoes, and receiving a hair-cut also symbolize a fresh start.
In many households where Buddhism or Taoism is prevalent, home altars and statues are cleaned thoroughly, and altars that were adorned with decorations from the previous year are also taken down and burned a week before the new year starts, and replaced with new decorations. Taoists (and Buddhists to a lesser extent) will also "send gods" (送神), an example would be burning a paper effigy of Zao Jun the Kitchen God, the recorder of family functions. This is done so that the Kitchen God can report to the Jade Emperor of the family household's transgressions and good deeds. Families often offer sweet foods (such as candy) in order to "bribe" the deities into reporting good things about the family.
The biggest event of any Chinese New Year's Eve is the dinner every family will have. A dish consisting of fish will appear on the tables of Chinese families. It is for display for the New Year's Eve reunion dinner. The venue will usually be in or near the home of the most senior member of the family. The New Year's Eve dinner is very sumptuous and traditionally includes chicken and fish, but not eaten completely (and the remainder is stored overnight), as the Chinese phrase "may there be surpluses every year" sounds the same as "may there be fish every year."
It is customary to make a new year cake (Niangao, 年糕) after dinner and send pieces of it as gifts to relatives and friends in the coming days of the new year. Niangao literally means increasingly prosperous year in year out. After the dinner, some families go to local temples, hours before the new year begins to pray for a prosperous new year by lighting the first incense of the year; however in modern practice, many households hold parties and even hold a countdown to the new lunar year.
Shou Sui occurs when members of the family gather around throughout the night after the reunion dinner and reminisce about the year that has passed while welcoming the year that has arrived. Some believe that children who Shou Sui will increase the longevity of the parents.
The first day is for the welcoming of the deities of the heavens and earth, officially beginning at midnight. Many people, especially Buddhists, abstain from meat consumption on the first day because it is believed that this will ensure longevity for them. For Buddhists, the first day is also the birthday of Maitreya Bodhisattva (better known as the more familiar Budai Luohan), the Buddha-to-be. People also abstain from killing animals.
Most importantly, the first day of Chinese New Year is a time when families visit the oldest and most senior members of their extended family, usually their parents, grandparents or great-grandparents.
Traditionally, red envelopes or red packets are passed out during the Chinese New Year's celebrations, from married couples or the elderly to unmarried juniors. It is also common for adults or young couples to give red packets to children. During Chinese New Year, mandarin oranges are usually brought when visiting friends or relatives at their. Greeting people "Happy Chinese New Year" & "Gong Xi Fa Cai" always heard all around and people love these greetings because they represent "Happy and get rich".
Some families may invite a lion dance troupe as a symbolic ritual to usher in the Lunar New Year as well as to evict bad spirits from the premises. Members of the family who are married also give red envelopes containing cash to junior members of the family, mostly children and teenagers. Business managers also give bonuses through red envelopes to employees for good luck and wealth.
The second day of the Chinese New Year is for married daughters to visit their birth parents. Traditionally, daughters who have been married may not have the opportunity to visit their birth families frequently.
On the second day, the Chinese pray to their ancestors as well as to all the gods. They are extra kind to all dogs and feed them well as it is believed that the second day is the birthday of all dogs.
The third day is known as "chì kǒu" (赤口), directly translated as "red mouth". "chì kǒu is also called "chì gǒu rì" (赤狗日). "chì gǒu" means "the God of Blazing Wrath" (熛怒之神). It is generally accepted that it is not a good day to socialize or visit your relatives and friends.
The seventh day, traditionally known as renri 人日, the common man's birthday, the day when everyone grows one year older. It is the day when tossed raw fish salad, yusheng, is eaten. This is a custom primarily among the overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia, such as Malaysia and Singapore. People get together to toss the colourful salad and make wishes for continued wealth and prosperity.
For many Chinese Buddhists, this is another day to avoid meat, the seventh day commemorating the birth of Sakra Devanam Indra.
Another family dinner to celebrate the eve of the birth of the Jade Emperor. However, everybody should be back to work by the 8th day.
The ninth day is traditionally the birthday of the Jade Emperor. This day is especially important to Hokkiens. Come midnight of the eighth day of the new year, Hokkiens will offer thanks giving prayers to the Emperor of Heaven. Offerings will include sugarcane as it was the sugarcane that had protected the Hokkiens from certain extermination generations ago. Incense, tea, fruit, vegetarian food or roast pig, and paper gold is served as a customary protocol for paying respect to an honored person.
The fifteenth day of the new year is celebrated as Yuan Xiao Festival or Lantern Festival, otherwise known as Chap Goh Mei in Fujian dialect. Rice dumplings tangyuan, a sweet glutinous rice ball brewed in a soup, is eaten this day. Candles are lit outside houses as a way to guide wayward spirits home. This day is celebrated as the Lantern Festival, and families walk the street carrying lighted lanterns.
This day is celebrated by individuals seeking for a love partner, a different version of Valentine's Day. Normally, single women would write their contact number on mandarin oranges and throw it in a river or a lake while single men would collect them and eat the oranges. The taste is an indication of their possible love: sweet represents a good fate while sour represents a bad fate.
This day often marks the end of the Chinese New Year festivities.
- Category: Festival
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Thaipusam is a Hindu festival celebrated mostly by the Tamil community on the full moon in the Tamil month of Thai (January/February). It is celebrated not only in countries where the Tamil community constitutes a majority, but also in countries where the Tamil community is a minority, such as Singapore and Malaysia. The festival is also referred to as Thaipooyam or Thaippooyam in the Malayalam language.
The word Thaipusam is derived from the month name Thai and Pusam, which refers to a star that is at its highest point during the festival. The festival commemorates the occasion when Parvati gave Murugan a vel (spear) so he could vanquish the evil demon Soorapadman. There is a misconception among people that Thaipusam marks Murugan's birthday; however, it is believed that Vaikhasi Vishakam, which falls in the Vaikhasi month (May/June), is Murugan's birthday.
The origin sound with Skanda (or Murugan) was created during one of the battles between the Asuras or to be more specific Surapadman and the Devas. At one point, the latter were defeated several times by the former. The Devas were unable to resist the onslaught of the Asura forces. In despair, they approached Shiva and entreated to give them an able leader under whose heroic leadership they might obtain victory over the Asuras. They surrendered themselves completely and prayed to Shiva. Shiva granted their request by creating the mighty warrior, Skanda, out of his own power or Achintya Shakti. He at once assumed leadership of the celestial forces, inspired them and defeated the Asura forces and to recognize that day the people created the festival.
Kavadi Attam is a dance performed by the devotees during the ceremonial worship of Murugan, the Tamil God of War. It is often performed during the festival of Thaipusam and emphasizes debt bondage. The Kavadi itself is a physical burden through which the devotees implore for help from the God Murugan. Generally, Hindus take a vow to offer a kavadi to idol for the purpose of tiding over or averting a great calamity. For instance, if the devotee's son is laid up with a fatal disease, he would pray to Shanmuga to grant the boy a lease of life in return for which the devotee would take a vow to dedicate a kavadi to Him.
Devotees prepare for the celebration by cleansing themselves through prayer and fasting approx-48 days before Thaipusam. Kavadi-bearers have to perform elaborate ceremonies at the time of assuming the kavadi and at the time of offering it to Murugan. The kavadi-bearer observes celibacy and take only pure, Satvik food, once a day, while continuously thinking of God.
On the day of the festival, devotees will shave their heads and undertake a pilgrimage along a set route while engaging in various acts of devotion, notably carrying various types of kavadi (burdens). At its simplest this may entail carrying a pot of milk, but mortification of the flesh by piercing the skin, tongue or cheeks with vel skewers is also common.
The simplest kavadi is a semicircular decorated canopy supported by a wooden rod that is carried on the shoulders, to the temple. In addition, some have a small spear through their tongue, or a spear through the cheeks. The spear pierced through his tongue or cheeks reminds him constantly of Lord Murugan. It also prevents him from speaking and gives great power of endurance. Other types of kavadi involve hooks stuck into the back and either pulled by another walking behind or being hung from a decorated bullock cart or more recently a tractor, with the point of incisions of the hooks varying the level of pain. The greater the pain the more god-earned merit.
The largest Thaipusam celebrations take place in Singapore, Mauritius and Malaysia. It is a public holiday in several states in Malaysia, including Selangor, Negeri Sembilan, Penang, Perak, Johor, Putrajaya and Kuala Lumpur. The temple at Batu Caves, near Kuala Lumpur, often attracts over one million devotees and tens of thousands of tourists. The procession to the caves starts at the Sri Mahamariamman Temple, Kuala Lumpur in the heart of the city and proceeds for 15 kilometers to the caves, an 8-hour journey culminating in a flight of 272 steps to the top. Thaipusam is also celebrated at another cave site, the Sri Subramaniar Temple in Gunong Cheroh, Ipoh, Perak and at the Nattukottai Chettiar Temple along Jalan Waterfall in Penang.
- Category: Festival
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Chinese New Year is celebrated start from the first day of the lunar calendar and lasts for 15 days. However, for the Hokkien community in Penang, the 9th day of Chinese New Year is also another celebration of the new year. Penang has a large Hokkien community due to whose ancestors were immigrants primarily from Fujian province in China.
The Hokkien New Year is to celebrate the day when the Hokkiens escaped mistreatment by ruthless army in ancient China by seeking refuge in a sugarcane plantations. The Hokkiens emerged unharmed on the 9th day of Chinese New Year and it was then considered as new year for the Hokkiens. There are two reasons why Hokkien takes this prayers on the eight night seriously. One is good triumphed over evil. Two, due to continuous prayer to Jade Emperor for defeating their enemies.
The 9th day of Chinese New Year also coincides with the birthday of the Jade Emperor of Heaven (Thni Kong Seh). The Hokkien community in Penang celebrates Thni Kong Seh around midnight on the eighth day, by praying to the Jade Emperor of Heaven (or Thni Kong). While most homes would have their own celebration and prayers, the largest celebration was in Chew Jetty.
For the tourist, this is the highlights or major festivities for the Chinese. If you choose to have your Penang vacations or holidays here, you will not regret it. This celebration goes on for fifteen days and all the days, there are different celebration,be it in temple or home. Even China loses out when it comes to Penang Chinese New year.
The Chew Jetty has one of the biggest community Thni Kong Seh celebration in Penang. The celebration was held on the eighth day of the Chinese New Year and started from around 8pm to midnight. Tables are joined to make a long row just outside of Chew Jetty, with an altar in front.
Residents of Chew Jetty would bring out offerings for the Jade Emperor of Heaven (Thni Kong) and leave them on the table. Offerings would include buns in the shape of turtle (mee koo), roast pork, fruits and tea. As the Hokkiens escaped by hiding in sugarcane plantation, sugar canes are also an important offering. Candles in the shape of lotus, large incense and gold paper would also be burned.
For homes, the Thni Kong altar is always placed outside the house. Today is a busy day for Hokkien people. Approximately, eleven at night, all the family members are carried out and placed on a specially erected table for the grand prayers.
The food and fruits are specially wrapped round with red paper. Cutting of red paper to bind the fruits is going to be a dying art. The roasted pig with its butts stuck up, lovely mee koo, jelly and other foods are food offerings for the Gods. Mostly the vegetable foods will be placed at the front, while the meat will be placed follow by the vegetable foods.
Lastly, the gold paper will be burned and fireworks will end up for this prayers. All the offering foods will take down from the altar to enjoy.
- Category: Festival
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Chap Goh Meh in Mandarin was called Yuan Xiao, but in the traditional Hokkien dialect of Penang, Chap Goh Meh means the 15th night of Chinese New Year. It is celebrated with prayers and offerings to mark the end of the Chinese New Year.
Chap Goh Meh is also known as the Chinese Valentine’s Day, another significant purpose for this day besides being tagged as the last day of celebrations. This is also a night where family members come together and have a meal while offerings and prayers are also held in conjunction with the celebrations.
During this auspicious occasion, houses are brightly decorated with lights and lanterns are hung over the balcony or five-foot ways for the last day of the Chinese New Year. Prayers to the ancestors are offered. Despite a ban, firecrackers are lit as a 'send-off' to the New Year.
If you go to temples you can see many of the devotees perform prayers and asking the God of Prosperity to bless them with success and wealth for the coming year. The night will also be filled with activities as you may be able to witness cultural performances, lion dances and other various activities which you will have to wait another year for should you miss out on it that night.
On this night of courtship the young ladies will dress to the nines and go to the temples in hope of finding their prospective suitors. In Malaysia most of the single people turn out on this night for the same purpose of match-making.
However instead of going to temples and finding their significant other, what most of them do is take mandarin oranges and write their name and phone number on it. Then they would throw it into a lake or a pond which traditionally signifies that the lady is available for marriage, however in modern times it is usually to find a boyfriend. This is definitely one of the main highlights of Chap Goh Meh and something that is popular amongst the youths even until today. This tradition of throwing mandarin oranges started sometime ago in the late 19th century which originated from our very own shores in the state of Penang.
To keep this quaint tradition alive in modern times, orange throwing has transformed into a competition of sorts, where oranges thrown into the sea at the esplanade by girls (single or otherwise) would be scooped up by boys in boats. The boat with most oranges would be declared the winner.
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