We are Malaysian Chinese – a part of a large migratory flock of overseas Chinese whose ancestors moved out of poverty-stricken China almost a century ago to seek better lives elsewhere.
Chinese New Year reinforces our identity through its culture and traditions. This is important in giving us, especially our children, a sense of where we came from, where we belong, and where we are going. Without it, we would be a people lost in transition.
Reunion dinner – On Chinese New Year eve, families get together for their annual reunion dinner to mark the importance of family ties. The family that eats together stays together! At the start of the dinner, there is the practice of “loh sang” – tossing colorful strips of vegetables and fruits together with raw fish (optional) to symbolize success and virility. It is also a good bonding activity for family and friends as each person holds a pair of chopsticks to toss the colorful platter of prosperity.
Vegetarianism – On the first day of Chinese New Year, which is also the New Moon day, many families take vegetarian food for the day, or at least half the day. This is in keeping to the Buddhist first precept of non-killing, or to value life. It is also a healthy practice as people tend to go overboard with meat dishes during this festive season.
Serving tea to elders – An important part of Chinese culture is to show gratitude and respect to our elders. Dressed in traditional garb, we serve Chinese tea to our parents and grandparents, kneeling down respectfully before them, and uttering auspicious Chinese New Year sayings. Our parents or grandparents will then hand us “angpows” (red packets) as gifts of good luck.
The act of giving – Tis the season for giving to show gratitude to our elders and to those who have helped us in the past. Through giving, we practice generosity. For Buddhists, visiting the temple to offer prayers, alms and donations is a good practice. This gives a spiritual experience to an otherwise, materialistic festival.
Visiting the elders – Priority is given to the elders in the family. By visiting them and bringing them gifts, we are showing our gratitude to their hard work and sacrifices in the past in bringing up their children. When our children see that we show our gratitude and respect towards our parents and grandparents, they will, in turn, do the same towards us when we grow older in age.
Visiting friends and relatives – this is not the time for hibernation. For those who like to hibernate, this is the time to come out and visit friends and relatives, for the simple reason that we do not live in isolation of society. On the contrary, we depend very much on family and friends for support and friendship because we humans are social creatures who enjoy some good creature comforts and companionship.
Chinese New Year caroling – This year, we are introducing Chinese New Year caroling amongst our circle of friends to foster greater friendships and festive cheer. We will go to each other’s homes to sing Chinese New Year songs and offer Chinese New Year greetings! The kids will also perform the lion dance to add to the festivity!
So, Chinese New Year is not just a festival about getting more wealth. It is not just about boring, meaningless traditions of driving through hours of traffic jams to get to our hometowns, just to have dinner together. It is about strengthening our ties with our family – the root of our existence in this world.
By all means, be happy and be merry, but do not forget to be healthy too!
May the new year bring you new hopes and new dreams to be fulfilled and realized!