Chinese New Year – The Tradition


Hey there Cybertronians,

Welcome to this Chinese New Year’s special entry. Chinese New Year is already looming on the horizon, and it is definitely my most favorite of all celebrations. It is the only celebration, dare I say, when most businesses will shut down and go on holidays for a few days. I still remembered the days when I was much younger, shopping complexes in Malacca such as Parkson, Jusco, The Store, and also the now-defunct Fajar & Great Wall (there were no Tesco, Giant, or Carrefour back then), would shut down for at least two days. There would be a huge shopping rush everywhere as everyone would want to stock up supplies for at least 2 to 3 days, just in case. I remembered many of my late father’s Malay friends used to complain about the situation. It’s kinda funny, now that I started thinking about it.

Just several days ago, I had this conversation with a friend from Germany, regarding the tradition and beliefs of the Chinese community. Apparently he has difficulties in understanding the unorthodox beliefs (compared to Western standards) that has become the way of life of everyday Chinese people, for example, the concept of spring cleaning. Yes, it’s true that cleaning of the house should be done on a regular basis, but spring cleaning here bears more significance symbolically. The act of spring cleaning itself, as I explained to him, symbolizes washing away ill luck and misfortunes, and supposedly brings in good luck and prosperity. 

Like it or not, Chinese New Year is very much all about money, prosperousness, wealth and being rich. Unlike Hari Raya Aidilfitri, Deepavali or Christmas, all of which have deep religious roots in origin (although I have to go on the record saying that Christmas nowadays have been heavily commercialized), Chinese New Year is the epitome of celebrating materialistic values.

The color red, for instance, signifies wealth and good luck, thus wearing red, or decorating one’s house in full red will bring in more good fortunes and paves the way for prosperities.  To not wash your hair means not to wash away the riches (the Chinese word for hair is “fa”, which sounds like wealth). Also, it is advisable that no sweeping is done during CNY as the broom itself is considered as something that is very inauspicious, and the act of sweeping means as if you’re sweeping away good luck and fortune. 

Another tradition that has materialistic values woven into it is eating “yee sang”. Its literal meaning is “raw fish”, and it sounds like “increase in abundances”. So as you can already guess why eating “yee sang” is auspicious.

Several days before Chinese New Year, or to be exact, on the 23rd December of the Lunar Calendar, it is believed that the Kitchen God will rise up to the heavens to present the “report card” of the household that He resides in. In the olden days, each house, or specifically, in the kitchen, there is always a special altar reserved for the Kitchen God. The Kitchen God is literally the watcher of the family, observes everything that goes on within the household and also protects the inhabitants. On the day of His ascension to heaven, people normally would offer “nian gao” (a type of sweet cakes that is normally made for and eaten during CNY) or any other sweet stuffs. Some even will smear honey on the mouth of His effigies. There are two reasons for this. First is that “nian gao” is a type of cake that is very sweet and sticky. Some believe that the Kitchen God is very fond of sweet stuffs and by eating this sticky cake, it’ll glue up His mouth and He can’t badmouth anyone to the Jade Emperor. Another reason is that the sweet candies offered to him are akin to bribing Him to leave out the bad stuffs about you.

As with most things, it is impeccable that one must understand the origin of one thing, in order to appreciate it. On the same note, one must understand the origin of Chinese New Year itself in order to appreciate the celebrations and understand the significance. Back in the days immemorial, it was said that a beast called “Nian” once lived in mountain. It would sometimes roam the villages and terrorize, and to some extent, even consume the villagers. However one day, in one of its rampages around the village, someone eventually discovered that the beast was afraid of noisiness and the color red. So the villagers, armed with that piece of knowledge, decided to use them as weapons against this beast. The villagers used firecrackers, household kitchen wares, red banners to scare off the beast and eventually slay it. Thus, from that moment onwards, the Chinese all over the world celebrate the New Year in order to commemorate the slaying of the monster, and they would light off firecrackers, hang red cloths on the main door, fully utilizing the color red in every way possible (as in wearing red outfits, giving away red packets or “ang pow”, adoring the house with red-colored ornaments) and also play the lion dance. The lion, in the Lion dance actually refers to “Nian” – the beast.
While the origin of the CNY itself may be a fable or a legend, it did however set a precedent over how the Chinese celebrated the festival ever since and the years to come. It doesn’t really come as a surprise that the tradition of CNY has evolved over time and became so materialistically-oriented. In fact, the everyday life of the Chinese community revolves around feng shui and superstitious beliefs, which if not followed correctly; it is believed that they will affect your well being and pathway towards success and prosperity. For example, it is best that one do not go out at night during the Hungry Ghost Festival, for fear that wandering spirits may follow him or her home, and thus causing bad feng shui.

During Chinese New Year, the night before is considered very auspicious, as well as being very important. During the day, families members would normally pray to their deceased relatives, and at night, there would a huge gathering of family members and have reunion dinner together. In Mandarin, this is called 大团圆 (da tuan yuan). Relatives from near and far would return home, and enjoy a good conversation amongst themselves overnight, or some other might even gamble all through the night. The Straits Chinese community (Peranakan Baba & Nyonya) believed that if children stay awake until after midnight, it means that they are wishing for the longevity and wellbeing of their parents.

On the first day of CNY, a brief prayer offering will be performed to the Jade Emperor early in the morning. After that, the Straits Chinese children will then perform the “soja” (or the act of kneeling on the floor and wishing for the wellbeing and longevity) to their elderly – a tradition that had been brought down through the ages. After all are done, everyone will start visiting one another, also called 拜年 (bai nian). Normally, if a father-figure is the eldest amongst his siblings, his younger siblings will come and visit them first before otherwise – it’s a sign of respect from the younger to the elder. 

The 8th day of Chinese New Year also holds a very importance amongst the Chinese, especially to those of Hokkien origin. The day also marks the birthday of the Jade Emperor. Families would normally hold continuous prayer offerings overnight. In Hokkien tradition, the 8th day of CNY is almost as important as the 1st day itself. If one doesn’t get the chance to visit their elders on the 1st day, they could do so on the 8th.
Finally, on the last day of the 15th day, also known as the “Chap Go Meh”, or the Chinese version of the St. Valentine’s Day, in the olden days, un-betrothed teenage ladies would normally write their details on oranges and toss them into the rivers, while young men would sought to collect as many oranges as possible. If they’re lucky, they might even find their soul mates, and some really did. This tradition however is seldom followed nowadays, but it is not to say that this practice has been totally abandoned. It is still practice in certain parts of Penang, Kuala Lumpur and even in Malacca, but with a modern twist. Instead of personal details, the maidens may instead write their names and phone numbers on the oranges, and then subsequently wait for phone calls from potential candidates.

To many, the Chinese culture, their beliefs and traditions may seem a bit strange and unorthodox, but this is what makes the Chinese traditions so unique. China is big – really big. For centuries throughout its founding by the legendary Emperor Shih Huang Ti, China has established itself as a force to be reckoned with. Before China opened its doors to the world, other civilizations thought it to be quite strange and mysterious, and also a land full of incalculable riches. Even the-then Chinese empire even thought itself to be the center of the world, as implicated by its Chinese name, 中国 (zhong guo), which literally means the “middle country” or “centre country”. And for so long it was indeed. China has become a melting pot for various traditions all across the world, which has since assimilated into the cultures of the Chinese community that makes it so unique.

As I said, Chinese New Year is finally upon us now. Yes, this may have been a very long piece for your reading; hopefully, it has provided you readers with an overview of Chinese traditions as a whole, and also the CNY itself. Hopefully, you may find this piece interesting. 

Also, we at Planet Cybertron, and the New Planet Cybertron blogs would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a Happy Chinese New Year, and hopefully this year of the rabbit will yield more abundance, good health, good luck and more prosperous ventures and endeavors. I hope you will enjoy this festive season and have a fun and memorable holidays. 

.:PEACE:.

P.S.: You may also go to our other Planet Cybertron page at: http://planetcybertron.wordpress.com/2011/02/06/chinese-new-year-the-tradition-lion-dance-yee-sang/ for additional information on the celebrations of Chinese New Year... 









1 comment:

  1. You may also go to our other Planet Cybertron page at: http://planetcybertron.wordpress.com/2011/02/06/chinese-new-year-the-tradition-lion-dance-yee-sang/ for additional information on the celebrations of Chinese New Year...

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