(Photo by Ashley Haseley)
In Malaysia as well as many other parts of Asia, Chinese New Year is the most important traditional Chinese holiday. The Chinese New Year tradition is to reconcile, forget all grudges and sincerely wish peace and happiness for everyone. It is the longest festival in the Chinese calendar, lasting 15 days. Chinese New Year can also be known as “Lunar New Year” or “Spring Festival”.
It is tradition for families to clean the house to sweep away any ill-fortune in hopes to bring forth good luck for the New Year. Families will gather starting on the Eve of Chinese New Year, with a dinner that could include pig, ducks, chicken and sweet delicacies. On the day of the ‘New Year’, children and single adults will receive money in red paper envelopes, known as “ang pow”. Some common traditions during the Chinese New Year are; decorated houses in red paper-cuts and lanterns, red clothing, fireworks, lion and dragon dances, and themes of “good fortune” and “longevity”.
"According to some tales and legends, the beginning of Chinese New Year started with the fight against a mythical beast called the Nian. The Nian would come on the first day of the New Year and was known to eat livestock, crops and villagers; some legends even say he ate children. For protection, the villagers would put food in front of their doors the night before so the Nian would feast from the food and not the villagers. It is believed that one day people saw the Nian scared of the children that were dressed in “red”, so it became tradition to hang red lanterns outside the homes. Stories were also told that the Nian was scared of loud noises, so fireworks became a common tradition. After these traditions, people calmed to never have seen the Nian again."
Here in Sandakan, I was able to experience a true traditional “Chinese New Year”. This year is the “year of the Dragon”. Dragons are known to bring good fortune, and strong believers feel that this year will bring success, excitement and innovative ideas.
The holiday started out at my friend’s family’s house, with a nice Chinese New Year’s Eve dinner. Fish, lamb, duck, crab…you name it, they had it.
After the evening came to an end (or so I thought) I got into my PJs and went off to bed. At exactly midnight, I woke up to roaring thunder-like sounds of fireworks. As a natural reaction, I jumped out of bed and went to my window. The noises surrounded me and I could not decide which directions of the sky to focus on and then… it was like the 'Fourth of July'! The sky was filled with bright colors of red, blue, green, etc… I could not help but do the typical American “ohhhh….owwww”.
The next couple of days I went to a few different house visits. I got to try new dishes and see all different kinds of traditional performances - lion dance, dragon dance, unicorn dance, traditional Chinese drums and others. The most common performance is the “Lion Dance”. Most lion dance performances are done during the daytime, but there are some that perform at night, with ultra-violet lights. The Lion dance is believed to bring good luck and fortune.
I met new people and made new friends and developed new connections. I could not of asked for a better way to celebrate my first Chinese New Year…maybe I’ll come back next year…