I’m about to go on a 1.5 week vacation – it’s my annual trip back to Malaysia to spend time with my family during Chinese New Year, which falls on the 28th of January this year. I won’t be actively blogging, but let me share with you what I’ll be busy doing instead.
Chinese New Year is all about family. I have a big extended family which makes this time of the year even more festive. My mother is one of nine siblings while my dad is one of six. Nowadays, we tend to celebrate Chinese New Year with my mother’s family as my dad’s siblings are based in a different part of Malaysia. In the run up to Chinese New Year, my parents will be busy cleaning the house and preparing for the festivities by buying food and drinks which will be served to guests.
Chinese New Year kicks off on the eve, when we have what is called the ‘reunion dinner’. This is an event where all family members reunite over a big meal. For my family, we’ll be gathering in a Chinese restaurant where we get to enjoy a multi course meal. A Chinese New Year dish which is unique to Malaysia and Singapore is called ‘yu sang’ which translates to raw fish. This is a dish where we mix slices of raw fish, shredded vegetables, crackers, parsley, chopped peanuts, sesame seeds and a sauce (similar to plum sauce) using our chopsticks. It is a colourful dish and the belief is that the higher we toss the ingredients while mixing, the better our luck for the year ahead.
On New Year day, we typically go to a couple of temples to pray. We also try to catch the lion dance at the temples. The performers dress up in lion costumes, typically in red or gold colours and ‘dance’ to very loud music of banging drums and clashing cymbals. This is an auspicious Chinese performance which only happens during big celebrations. There used to be fire crackers as well but it has been banned due to safety reasons.
The New Year celebration lasts for fifteen days. During this period, we visit relatives and friends to greet them and vice versa. Another practise which is unique to our part of the world is the tradition of serving cookies alongside mandarin/clementine (called ‘kum’ in Chinese, which sounds like the word for gold) and a selection of nuts and seeds. I usually binge on these cookies even though they’re meant for guests. There is a variety of cookies available, including almond, butter, cashew, pineapple, etc. It has become a big industry – lots of stay at home mums spend the weeks before Chinese New Year baking cookies for sale.
Throughout my trip, there will be lots of family gatherings. Other than good food, another tradition for most Malaysian Chinese families is to play card games or mahjong. The stereotype that Chinese like to gamble is pretty accurate. When I was a kid, we used to play card games and used seeds instead of money to ‘gamble’. It’s really not about the money at all; it’s just a fun activity and a great way to interact as a family.
For kids, there is another reason to be excited about Chinese New Year. Children receive ‘red packets’ from married adults, which is a token of good luck but more importantly, contain money. My daughter was too young to appreciate it last year but now that she’s two, I’m sure that she’ll have lots of fun with the red packets. Typically, children get to enjoy the thrill of receiving the red packets but not the spending part as parents will collect all the money at the end of Chinese New Year.
See you after my vacation, when I would have probably gained weight but my wallet would be lighter from giving red packets.