Hokkien Chinese New Year in Kuala Kurau
Kuala Kurau is a little town just south of Penang. I celebrated Chinese New Year with the Hokkien population here. I come now several years in Kuala Kurau (you may remember I once visited a colorful Chinese Wedding in Kuala Kurau) and two years in a row some of my friends there asked me to join them for the celebration, especially on the 8th day which continues sometimes into the 9th day.
The 8th Day of Hokkien Chinese New Year
During the Chinese Ming Dynasty, the Hokkien (they still live in south east China (in the area of Xiamen) lost a war. They had to flee their villages.
Depending on what you read the attackers were foreign troops or Han Chinese. However, the most persistent story is that the invaders were from closer by: the Cantonese.
The Hokkiens fled and hid in the sugarcane fields. The Cantonese soldiers tried to find them for day but failed. After some time the Cantonese warriors grew tired of searching the fields and returned to their own areas.
The Hokkiens returned to what was left of their houses but they themselves had been spared. The day they came out of the sugarcane fields was, as they realised, the 9th day of the Chinese New Year. Grateful they had been spared they offered gifts to the Yu Huang, the Supreme Ruler of Heaven for their salvation.
As their homes were destroyed, they had little to offer. All that they had was sugarcane stalks which they offered. The tradition held on until modern days.
Some say the tradition is the strongest in Penang. Although I have not been in Penang during the 9th Day of Chinese New Year, I was there a few days after.
Chinese New Year in Kuala Kurau
It still seems in Penang the tradition holds. However, in the little town of Kuala Kurau the tradition is very strong. People set up trables outside the house with gifts for the gods.
These gifts can be anything but is mostly food related. On both sides of the table you will see sugar cane stalks on both sides of the tables which serves as an altar.
At exactly 12 midnight, there will be no people on the street. At 12 midnight, the Hokkiens come together at home. The father of the family will burn a huge candle in front of the altar and then takes 3 burning sticks and performs an ancient ritual: the prayer to Yu Huang, the Supreme Ruler of Heaven for good luck and fortune.
After the eldest of the family has performed the prayer, usually the mother and then the children perform the same ritual. After prayers at the big table altar outside the house, usually prayer for the small house altars outside and inside the house will be performed.
The last part of the celebration happens in the street. Here huge amounts of little and careful prepared paper pieces will be burned. It symbolizes burning money.
Many of the Chinese in Kuala Kurau Kurau are fishermen. Not surprisingly some of the special prepared dishes have to do with seafood. And you can believe me, these people know how to prepare seafood.
The paper pile on the left side will be burned outside
(see the sugarcane stalk on the right side of this photo)
And of course, as it should be with the celebration of the New Year, there was plenty of fireworks!
As I am not Chinese some of the ideas behind the celebration are quite alien to me. However, the Hokkien population of Kuala Kurau is fierce in their beliefs and I love to see not only the elder people taking part in the rituals.
The younger generation is as much involved in this as the older. This way only this colorful and beautiful traditional can be brought into the next century. It was an honor for me to be able to join such an event.