The Chinese New Year festival began some 4,600 years ago, when the Chinese zodiac of 12 animals based on the lunar calendar, was created by Emperor Shih Huang Ti.
Time honored traditions, customs and rituals continue to this day, spinning a common thread binding Chinese communities all over the world.
Chinese New Year, throughout the Chinese diaspora all over the world, marks the end of one lunar year and the ushering of another.
For the Chinese community in Pahang and in Malaysia, the festivities will be carried on until Chap Goh Meh (15th day of the new year).
Chap Goh Meh is also sometimes known as the Chinese Valentine’s Day.
Troupes performing acrobatic dragon and lion dances, with the clanging of drums, gongs and cymbals will be familiar sights in the towns and villages of Pahang and Malaysia, heralding a time of joy and merriment for not only the Chinese community but also other Malaysians.
The Chinese New Year is also a time to renew family ties and to catch up with friends. Each year parents will look forward to seeing their children, grand-children and even god-children as well as friends from near and far.
Did you know that the seventh day of the Chinese New Year is also celebrated?
Well, the seventh day is traditionally known as "Yan Yat" which means "common birthday" or "people’s birthday", and is celebrated by the Chinese as the birthday of mankind and so it's a day everyone grows a year older!
And to the Hokkiens the 9th day of the Chinese New Year is an important event. On the eve of the day, they will offer prayers and make offerings of sugar-cane to the Jade Emperor.
Sugar–cane is offered because historically it was the sugar-cane plantations that had protected the Hokkiens of China from being annihilated.
Chinese New Year is a festive celebration steeped in tradition. Although it is celebrated by the Chinese diaspora all over the world, each locality and community will have their own variations of the unique Chinese traditions and customs.
In the state of Pahang, preparations for the celebration will normally start as early as a month before the festival, when Chinese families will do a thorough spring-cleaning of their houses, to rid them of last year’s bad luck.
Dirt, wastes and dust that had accumulated or gathered at every nook and crannies of the house, such as at the floors, windows, stair-cases and compounds, will be dug, scraped and cleaned away, to ensure a new beginning of good fortune and prosperity to the household in the coming year.
Some of the old furnitures, carpets and curtains will be changed to new ones to signify a new phase of better living.
A few days before the festive season, the house is decked in Chinese décor. Hung inside and outside the home will be red lanterns, paper or plastic fire-crackers, and banners depicting fruits like pineapples and pumpkins.
Most probably there will be a pot of at least one kumquat tree, inside or outside the house. So too is an abundance of mandarin oranges, normally placed in a big bowl in the middle of the home, their golden yellow and orange colors signifying wealth and abundant good fortune.
Some Chinese homes will be gaily decorated with flowers such as plum blossoms, to symbolize prosperity. Citrus and peach flower branches, including cherry blossoms are also auspicious items used in the decorations.
Calligraphies written with themes of happiness, good fortune, wealth and longevity are set up on walls and doors.
But there are also taboos that must be strictly followed during the Chinese New Year to avoid misfortune during the new year.
The day before the Chinese New Year, children will make sure that they will arrive home at their parents' house before evening.
This is because the most important event on the eve of the Chinese New Year celebration is the Reunion Dinner. This is known as the "grand feast" or "makan besar" in Malay, when Chinese families from far and near gather at their parent's home to have a sumptuous feast.
Besides enjoying the traditional dishes of chicken, whole fish, wax duck, noodles, vegetables and soups, this get together of siblings and parents serves to foster closer and tighter relationship of the family members.
Dishes at New Year’s eve reunion dinner are full of symbolic meaning. Noodles (especially uncut ones) represent longevity, whole fish means abundance of wealth, and round foods, like meat balls, symbolize togetherness.
At some affluent homes, the menu usually has one or two high-priced delicacies like abalone or shark’s fin thrown in to make the occasion more memorable.
After the meal, the whole family, under the "shou sui" tradition, will stay up until early morning of the New Year to ensure long life to their parents.
I remember also in the old days, before they were outlawed, loud firecrackers were lighted to bid the old year and misfortunes out and to welcome the new one.
And all doors and windows must be opened at midnight to allow the old year out and to welcome the new year in.
On the first day of Chinese New Year, everyone, especially the young children, will wear new clothes and shoes to usher in the festivities.
The first day is usually the day when visits are made to the eldest in the family. It is also a day to welcome the gods from heaven and earth and usually on the first day Chinese elders do not take meat on the belief that their lives will then be always happy and fortunate.
Cheongsams and samfus are the traditional Chinese costumes worn on the morning of the new day, although modern dresses are usually worn, if at all, later in the day.
Red, in all its variances, is the color of choice for dresses and costumes, being a color associated with happiness and good fortune. Red clothes bring the wearer a bright future.
And a taboo color to wear on that day is black, which signifies mourning or death.
On the second day, married daughters will visit their parents with the family, while on the third and fourth days it will be the son’s turn to visit their parents with his family.
On the fifth day however, it is not a good day for Chinese families to make visits to friends or relatives as it is believed that there could be unfortunate incidents for both parties. They usually stay at home to welcome the god of wealth or "Po Woo", and visits are only continued on the sixth day.
Of course, no Chinese New Year celebration is complete without dragon and lion dances. Troupes comprising of children and adults will visit homes and shops and perform the acrobatic dances. Dragon and lion dances are believed to bring good luck and happiness to the household or shops where they are held.
Ang paus ("ang pau" or "ang pow" is Hokkien for "red envelope") are also part of the festive tradition. New Ringgit notes (as "lai see" or "lucky money") are stashed in colorful red envelopes and given to children and unmarried adults. Ang pows are also given to the performers of the dragon and lion dances.
In the old days, people used to make their own delicacies for the celebration, such as layer cake or "kuih bakul" in Malay. Now of course, the gold or layer cake can be bought at supermarkets and shops.
This layer cake is made from glutinous rice flour mixed with water and sugar, wrapped with banana leaves, and then baked by steaming them for 18 to 24 hours.
It is said that the longer the kuih bakul or layer cake is steamed, the longer it will last, sometimes for more than a month.
Other delicacies prepared and offered to visitors during the Chinese New Year in Pahang include jam tarts, sponge cake, kuih kapit and kuih bangkit.
Yee sang, a prosperity dish of raw fish, is a must during one of the meals and the higher it is held the greater prospect of prosperity and riches in the new year!
Other delicious traditional food that are normally prepared and cooked during the festival include chicken rice and steamboats.
The Chinese New Year officially ends on the 15th day with the festival of Chap Goh Meh. On this day, a sweet rice ball dumpling soup known as "tang yuan" is eaten as a special dish.
For us in Malaysia, and in the delightful state of Pahang, the celebration of a new year is not just restricted to the 1st of January.
With our multi-ethnic and multi–cultural make-up, new years can come at different times of the year, ensuring joy, merriment and celebrations for all communities at all times of the year.
Well, to all our Chinese friends and folks wherever you are, here’s me wishing you "Gong Xi Fa Chai" .
As always, from me...