Chinese New Year celebrations in Kuala Lumpur are slowly coming to a close! The official Chinese New Year also called ‘Spring Festival’ or ‘Lunar New Year’ began on February 16th and although the first 3 days are the most important, many celebrate for 15 consecutive days! The Chinese Zodiac for this year was the Year of the Dog. Just to note, my Chinese Zodiac is the Monkey, Antoine’s is the Pig, Ariane’s is the Horse and Aegeus’s is the Rooster! So we are one big happy Chinese Zodiac animal family!
KL was bustling with the color red, which is the main color for the festival and symbolizes prosperity and good luck! Red lanterns, cherry blossoms and red couplets adorned the malls, restaurants, buildings, streets and homes!
There are many traditions that come along with the Chinese New Year and so I wanted to share some of my favorites…
I was not in Malaysia for last year’s Chinese New Year celebrations, so seeing these dances and performances were a first time for me and I really enjoyed them! To Chinese people, dragons are legendary animals that are helpful and friendly. They are known to scare away evil spirits, bring wisdom, good luck, wealth and prosperity. Ariane had a small fear of these dancing dragons until we reassured her that they were ‘friendly dragons’ and then she was all good! Hopefully when we one day return to the States and she starts seeing the super scary fire-breathing dragons that steal princesses, eat people and tongue torch homes, she will remember the ‘friendly dragons’ from Malaysia!
Okay so dragons are known to have super powers that enable them to fly in the air, swim in the sea and walk on land. It is the tradition that every year during Chinese New Year for dragon dances to be performed in homes, condominiums and even shop fronts in shopping malls. The dragons used in Dragon dances are made from cloth, held and raised by a pole and can measure anywhere from a few metres long up to a hundred metres. Supposedly, the longer the dragon, the luckier one will be if touched by the dragon. Good news for Ari because I think the ‘friendly dragon’ at her school during the dragon dance skimmed the top of her pigtails so Ari should be pretty lucky going forward. During the dance there is one man who acts as the head or dragon master as I will call him; and as the dragon master, he entices the Dragon by using a pole and the Dragon will follow him around supposedly searching for wisdom.
Different then the dragon dance, in a lion dance, there are two performers making up each lion – one is the head which defines the lion’s personality, and one at the back for the tail. Apart from their legs, they are completely covered by their costume.
A typical lion dance would have one or more lions performing different acrobatic movements, as the art form has its basis in Chinese martial arts.
It’s accompanied by a live percussion band, featuring drummers, cymbals and gongs. And is quite loud!
The lions literally leap between stilts and perform some moves that are quite daring, yet very entertaining. It is amazing to me that the two people in the same lion suit are able to do this without face planting!
A key part of the dance is cai qing, or plucking of the greens. The lion picks up a head of green lettuce, which is generally tied to a red envelope of cash and may also include auspicious fruits like oranges. The lion begins spitting out the torn up leaves and orange peels to signify the distribution of wealth and prosperity.
For being the brave ones inside the lion costume, they get to keep the red envelope as a prize, there is generally two or more lions to ‘fight’ over it as part of the performance. Best lion wins!
Chinese New Year Food; Yee Sang
Yee Sang is comprised of thinly sliced pickled vegetables, strips of raw fish (usually salmon), other sauces and condiments like ground peanuts. If you know me, you know that I won’t eat this BUT popular practice is that everyone gathers around the dining room table to toss the ingredients high in the air while shouting well wishes and joyful exclamations of what they hope for in the coming year. The significance of the toss symbolizes an increase in abundance, prosperity and all good things. Some even believe that the higher you toss the salad; the more good things will come your way. So don’t forget to cover your head! Ariane was able to participate in this at her school’s CNY celebration! She grabbed the chopsticks and started tossing away! And just like her mommy, she kindly passed on tasting this ‘good luck salad’. Guess we will have to find our luck elsewhere!
Along with the red lanterns, couplets and cherry blossoms, you will also see an abundance of oranges and tangerines throughout the Chinese New Year celebrations. Tangerines represent wealth and oranges are a popular symbol of good luck. So basically symbols of abundant wealth and happiness! Going forward I will gladly accept bags of oranges and tangerines as gifts, as long as they come with an adjoining bag of cash so I can immediately feel like I have an abundance of wealth! Ariane received an orange at our condo’s Chinese New Year celebration so it looks like her luck is already starting to turnaround despite not eating the Yee Sang!
Ang Pau Packets or Red Envelopes
Ang Paus are usually given by the married adults to young children as a sign of continued prosperity. The amount given doesn’t really matter (although I am not sure I agree with this….ha!), the important part is the receiving of Ang Pau. Whether small or large amounts, it’s something that is fun and exciting, especially for young children. However, it is important to note that when giving an Ang Pau, it should be a red envelope and not white as money put in white envelopes are meant for funerals. So choose your envelopes carefully! Ari scored a red envelope at our condo CNY celebration that had RM 10 (or approximately $2.50 USD) and one from her school that was filled with RM 1 (or a Quarter in USD). She happily filled her piggy bank with her cash! This tradition I would have loved as a child or even when I was single but now that I am happily married I can no longer participate. Although my husband might say that he gives me red envelopes everyday and that if I don’t watch my spending habits the envelope color may change from red to white….ha ha ha!
The Tray of Togetherness”
I just learned about this as I was putting this blog together. I really loved the symbolism and think we could all use a Tray of Togetherness! The tray includes preserved kumquats (BELIEVE ME, I had to Google this just to make sure I even wanted the word in my blog….it is a citrus fruit people so let’s carry on!) , coconut , longans (an edible juicy fruit from SE Asia that is similar to the lychee), red melon seeds, lotus seeds and peanuts are some of the candies that typically make up “The Tray of Togetherness”. There are usually 8 compartments to the tray because 8 is a symbolic number representing prosperity. Therefore, 8 different types of candies are served or given as gifts. These candies represent all good things: kumquats for prosperity, red melon seeds for happiness, coconut for togetherness and sweets for a sweet and rich life for the coming year. I love this so much I just might make a Tray of Togetherness for the Wade Household.
Other traditions worth mentioning include firecrackers and fireworks, housecleaning, praying at the temple, family dinners and shopping, each of which has a special meaning or purpose.
The traditions mentioned above in detail are the ones that I loved the most now that I was finally able to be a part of the Chinese New Year celebration. It’s been so incredible to experience things like this while living as a family here in Malaysia.
Here are a few more pictures and a couple of videos from Ariane’s school during the Chinese New Year Celebration.
Although Aegeus (our 7 month old) may be too little to participate in or remember our experiences while overseas we definitely plan to share our stories with him one day. He does however get bragging rights for being ‘Made in Malaysia’ so I’m sure he will always rub that in, especially to his Big Sister. Ari on the other hand may be lucky enough to remember some of our experiences here. She was absolutely beautiful in her traditional Chinese dress that she wore to her school’s CNY celebration. Despite not being the biggest fan of the oversized, a bit crazy looking lions she is celebrating a holiday that she wouldn’t get an opportunity to celebrate if we were back in the States. We love to see her celebrate with different cultures, to see her celebrate our differences and to know that despite our differences, we can all celebrate each other TOGETHER, no matter what color we are, what religion we believe in, what holidays we choose to celebrate or what part of the world we live in.
And last, I would like to share a video that I made of the Chinese New Year Celebration at Ariane’s school…enjoy!
Gong Xi Fa Cai! (Happy New Year or Wishing You a Joyful & Prosperous New Year)