Sunday, 22 January 2017

4 Things I Love about Chinese New Year

Thean Hou Temple KL
One of the most celebrated festival in Malaysia after Eid or Raya is the Chinese New Year. I fell in love with it the very first time I saw malls decorated with Chinese lanterns, peach blossoms, Chinese wordings and the very intriguing and colourful Lion. I read a lot about it and found it very fascinating. The history, rituals, origins have so many different versions that it is impossible to put them all in one post. Like other traditions over the years things have been added and deleted from this festival but the essence remains the same.

CNY also known as Spring Festival is basically celebration of one year of hard work and anticipation of luck and prosperity in coming year. It falls in January or February of Gregorian calendar, exact date depends on the moon and traditional Chinese calendar. It is the biggest Chinese festival and in China the official holidays are for almost a week! (I know, let's move to China ;)). But in other countries like Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Philippines  etc, the holidays are only for the 2 days of the new year. It is a good time to plan a trip to any of these countries as this is really a festival to be enjoyed!

Preparation of the new year eve starts much in advance. There are many interesting rituals associated with CNY. Before the actual eve, businessmen try to balance their record books and pay off debts. People would generally introspect the misfortunes they had year before and seek forgiveness. They will meet up their old friends and relatives and renew friendships. Physically a very thorough cleaning of the house is done: Spring Cleaning which symbolizes spiritual cleaning - good riddance of bad luck and misfortunes. In an attempt to move all evil spirits from dark and forgotten corners of the house, furniture is moved around and some parts of the house are even repainted. Family reunions are planned, gifts exchanged, flowers are put in houses and red coloured papers with paper-cuts and couplets celebrating happiness, prosperity, longevity, good fortune etc are displayed on windows and doors. Mandarin Oranges are given as presents. Temples are decorated and special prayers are arranged.

Devotees praying during CNY

Magnificent Thean Hou Temple
And finally the firecrackers are set off to bid farewell to old year and welcome new year.

Having lived in Malaysia for 8 years now, I have some of my favourites from Chinese New Year too: 

1. Prosperity Toss or Lou Sang (Yusheng, yee sang or yuu sahng)

It happens on every CNY dinner, corporate or family, where a salad made up of some specific ingredients is put in center of a table. The ingredients are not mixed when served.

All the ingredients of Lou Sang
The people on the table, using their chopsticks toss all the ingredients to mix them properly while chanting prayers and good things they look forward to during the coming year. It is a very noisy and yet happy affair because each table has 8-10 people in typical corporate dinner and all of them toss the salad happily, shouting their wishes and desires. The room is filled with laughter, chants and prayers.

The ingredients symbolizes certain things; a typical salad may include:

  • Fish personifying abundance 
  • Carrots for good fortune
  • Pomelo for luck and prosperity 
  • Sesame seed for prosperity in business
  • Lime for riches and safety 
  • Pepper for wishes fulfilled
  • Peanuts for treasure
  • White Radish for success 
  • Green Radish for youthfulness
  • Deep fried crisps for a floor of gold

2. Lion Dance: 

Posing with Lion in a mall
The story goes that once there was a monk who dreamed of an impending evil to his land. He prayed to gods for protection. Gods told him of a 'Lion' that will come and save them from this danger. The monk had never seen a lion but he knew that lion was the king of animals. Using his imagination and combining all the lucky and magical animals and things he could think of, he created a lion which until today is considered to bring good luck, fortune and protection against evil. Lion Dance is arranged by special dance troops that visit offices, buildings, homes, compounds where the host arranges some offering for the lion to eat like Pomelo, salad leaves, fruits and things they want to be blessed. These troops visit offices and bless the workstation and files etc and in return get money in form of Ang Pao (details later in the post).

Lion dances on the beat of drums, cymbals and gongs - and if you are lucky on Gangnam style too!

 Here is a very traditional Lion Dance in San Francisco. It is quite informative too. 

 3. Decorations and Sales!

The whole town is painted red during the CNY. Malls are decorated, houses, streets, offices, buildings and every thing else is beautifully decorated with CNY symbols. You can enjoy the best sales during this period as it is considered lucky to buy new things during this festival and most people do their major shopping fiesta during these sales!

Chinese Lanterns in KLCC park
Chinese Lanterns in Thean Hou Temple

4. Ang Pao

Ang Pao or Ang Bao or Hung Bao or simply the red envelope is presented on the day of Chinese New Year. They are packets of gift money and good luck. Believed to have power to ward of evil, they contain even number as good things come in pairs. Ang Pao should not be opened in front of other people. Newer the bank notes, better it is ;) The envelopes should be brightly coloured with Chinese symbols of good luck. It can never be given in a white envelope! I get really rich around CNY as all my colleagues give me Ang Pao even though it is not given to married people but the pride with which people here celebrate their rituals and customs is admiring.

Happy New Year in Chinese is Gong Xi Fa Cai (pronounced as Gong see faa chai) and this magic phrase brings a smile to anyone's face when you wish them! The CNY in 2017 is on the January 28th!

While I am off to enjoy some sales and decorations, you can read up more about this interesting festival and follow me on Instagram and Snapchat to see more of the decorations.

 If you celebrate CNY, I would like to wish you, 

Gong Xi Fa Cai!


  1. I love CNY, too! I always look forward to the festivities, the dragon & lion performances, and I love seeing all the red decors ( I'm biased, it's my favorite color ). I wish you prosperity, success, and love in the coming Year of the Rooster.

  2. I love CNY but you know what I have never been in an actual celebration. Those decorations are so pretty. The Godmother of our daughter her mom always go home to China at this month to celebrate the CNY with her family. Great pictures, and I wish you success and more blessing in life.

  3. I've experienced all these when I was living in Singapore. Lou Shang is not available in the Philippines but everything else is a tradition that we practice as well.

  4. CNY is tikoy! It is that sweet rice cake that they sell around this time. I do not get to celebrate it since it is only in recent years that it is considered a holiday in my country (Philippines). I only notice that it is CNY because the malls are decked with dragons and lanterns.

  5. This is such a great post! I love all of the unique insight you've provided about what people do at the end of the year so they won't bring bad fortune into the new year. Sharing on Pinterest!
    erin |

  6. I enjoyed this holiday as a child visiting my grandmother to taste her homemade goodies as well as receiving my angpao. It does not exactly happen this way anymore now that I am older. The commercialised aspects are now more dominant, like other holidays.

  7. It would be nice to watch the lion dance and the festivities. It's also an excellent time to spend with the family.

  8. I visited China Town in London last year for Chinese New Year and it was so so beautiful!!! Back home, my friend hosted us for a dinner and it was just awesome!

  9. Your photos are amazing! This year in Columbus they had a Chinese Lantern festival that was breathtaking!

  10. Yes, indeed CNY mood everywhere here in Singapore too. Red packets, awesome goodies and festive food...Long holidays.

  11. I love Chinese culture, indeed Chinese study, and I agree with everything you say. The Chinese New Year is a great event, but for me the best part is the food <3

  12. I love Chinese culture, indeed I study Chinese, and I agree with everything you say. The Chinese New Year party is a great event, but for me the best part is the food <3

  13. I so want to witness the celebration of the Chinese New Year, but according to a Chinese friend, unless you're invited to a family celebration, there isn't much to see other than the dragon dance in our Chinatown. Maybe I can ask another person as I really want my kids to experience it.

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