Some people in Holland asked me: "So now you live there in Malaysia, near this little island Pangkor. How do people there celebrate their national holidays as Christmas and Easter. Do they have other special days a year?" To answer some of those questions we present here the first of the Special Editions of the Pulau Pangkor Newsletter.
The Lunar Calendar, a short introduction
On the 9th of February the Chinese people all over the world celebrate their New Year. This day is every year celebrated on a different day since the Chinese follow the Lunar Calendar. The Lunar Calendar is not like the Solar calendar. In fact the Chinese Lunar New Year is the longest chronological record in history. It dates back to 2600BC, when the Emperor Huang Ti introduced the first cycle of the zodiac.
Like the Western Calendar, The Chinese Lunar Calendar is a yearly one, with the start of the lunar year being based on the cycles of the moon. Therefore, because of this cyclical dating, the beginning of the year can fall anywhere between late January and the middle of February. This year it falls on February 9th. A complete cycle takes 60 years and is made up of five cycles of 12 years each.
The Chinese Lunar Calendar names each of the twelve years after an animal. Legend has it that the Lord Buddha summoned all the animals to come to him before he departed from earth. Only twelve came to bid him farewell and as a reward he named a year after each one in the order they arrived. The Chinese believe the animal ruling the year in which a person is born has a profound influence on personality saying: "This is the animal that hides in your heart."
Chinese New Year in and around Pangkor
Chinese New Year is approaching. The Chinese residents here are busy shopping and preparing for the festival. In fact, like Christmas, the shops are decorated with all kind of goods that have to do with the upcoming New Year. There are red envelopes, postcards, mandarins, red paper with lucky characters on it and much more all over available. People are cramping into the supermarket trying to get cheap deals too. Obviously, the Malays and Indians try to avoid shopping during this period.
In China, they call the New Year "Chun Jie", which means Spring Festival. However, in Malaysia, they keep it Chinese New Year.
Chinese New Year is a National Holiday and it's not just the Chinese who are excited. Malays, Indians, even Christians are excited too. Due to the fact that Malaysians live harmony hand in hand with all races, the Indians and Malays are celebrating Chinese New Year too by visiting their Chinese friends. For the Malaysian Chinese, this festival is when you visit your family, relatives and friends. They do not forget the good food for sure!
The children are the happiest during Chinese New Year. There are some good reasons for the kids. Firstly they have new clothes to wear. Secondly they will get "Ang Pow" which is a red packet or envelope filled with money from the older people who are married.
Chinese New Year is a period to go back home. Home in this case means the home of the parents. Special meals are prepared. However it is not necessary that this happens on the exact day of the New Year.
It's easy to spot where Chinese live during these days. All Chinese will hang lanterns in front of their doors, surpassingly bringing good luck. We have a "fook" (which means prosperous) character poster on our door!
When someone visit family and friends, they have to bring presents in terms of food or at least Mandarin oranges. There's a story behind it. Mandarin oranges in Cantonese means Gold, which also means prosperity. The quantity of oranges matters too. You can only bring 4, 8 or 16 oranges. No odd number please, it brings bad luck. Oranges are particularly associated with ambition and success: legend has it that a Chinese Emperor ceremonially distributed oranges to his favoured court officials on the second day of the Lunar New Year. One of the most important rules of the Chinese New Year here is you can't sweep your floor on the first day of the festival. The reasons for that is that you will sweep your wealth away, they believe. As you can see (if you do not already know yet) the Chinese have lots of superstitious beliefs. Here's another one.
As people do all over the world, at New Year people use firecrackers. In China it could be monstrous rolls of sometimes about 1 meter in diameter. Here at Pangkor, people use less firecrackers as it is officially banned especially the red rolls firecrackers. However, due to respect for other cultures and beliefs, the police close an eye for the entire 15 days. The story behind using firecrackers is that the noise of the firecrackers chases the demons and bad luck away.
In that sense, the Lion Dance, which is a part of Chinese culture all over the world has a similar function. A popular theory behind it is that a beast called "Nian" was terrorizing a village in China. Lion was the only animal that managed to wound it. This gave rise to the Lion Dance, as the villagers of the story tried to mimic the lion in their attempt to frighten the beast away.
The Lion Dance is performed at any occasion good luck is needed. The New Year is one of them, other occassions can be the opening of a shop, buying a new house or even a new car. The Lion Dance can be performed since it brings good luck.
At Pangkor Island and in the neighboring towns you will be able to see many different Lion Dances during these days.
Tossing the "yee sang" (a dish with colourful vegetables and raw fish) higher would bring prosperity. Yee Sang Recipe.
On the seventh day of Chinese New Year, which is considered as the birthday of all human beings, the Cantonese community partakes in a dish called "yee sang", a simple mixture of thin slices of raw fish, shredded vegetables, herbs and sauces.
All the ingredients for the dish are served separately on the same plate, and would then be tossed and mixed, carried with chopsticks high in the air by all at the table, while saying out loud the word "loh hei", which means liveliness, prosperity and longevity. This practice is said to herald prosperity for the coming year.
Chinese New Year is celebrated over a period of 15 days although the National Holiday takes only 2 official days. It is ending on the 15th of the First Moon with the "Chap Goh Meh" (meaning Fifteenth Night). On the evening of that day, people carry lanterns into the streets to take part in a great parade. Young men will highlight the parade with a dragon dance. The dragon is made of bamboo, silk, and paper, and may stretch for more than hundred feet in length. The bobbing and weaving of the dragon is an impressive sight. It is the finishing touch to the New Year festival.
In Malaysia, the 15th Day also means the Chinese Valentine's day. The girls and boys would throw Mandarin oranges in the river or sea hoping that their destined partner would pick it up and find them. Many people make extra money by picking up those oranges and sell them. And some rebels throw apples and watermelon instead of Mandarin oranges.
For Chinese people Chinese New Year is the real New Years day. Chinese New Year 2006 will be 29 January.
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