THE celebrations and merriment of the Lunar New Year draw to an end today on Chap Goh Meh, the 15th day of the first month in the lunar calendar.
According to Tan Sri Tee Hock Seng, honorary president of the Hokkien Association, some in China used to celebrate the new year from the eve until the 15th day.
“According to the people from China that we met, some Chinese still do, hence the 15th day signifies them having to return to work the next day.
“But Malaysians do not follow such customs,” he said.
Here are some interesting trivia about this special day and what people do to mark it:
What’s in a name
While it is commonly known as Chap Goh Meh (which is Hokkien for the 15th night) in Malaysia, it is known as Yuan Xiao Jie or Lantern Festival by folks in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao.
In Taoism, the day is also known as Shang Yuan Jie, and in ancient times it was a more long-drawn-out celebration.
During the Tang Dynasty, it was celebrated for three days; five during the Song Dynasty; and 10 during the Ming Period.
Koreans call the day Jeongwol Daeboreum.
It is a holiday to celebrate the first full moon of the year according to the lunar calendar.
While Malaysians hang up lanterns during the Mid-Autumn Festival, people in China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan, people break out the lanterns on the 15th day.
As stated on the respective tourism board's website, people in Macau and Hong Kong customarily organise events to celebrate the festival.
This includes the cai deng mi (“guessing the lantern riddle”) game where riddles are hung underneath lanterns.
According to Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall chief secretary Tang Ah Chai, there are several legends as to why this day is celebrated.
During the Han Dynasty around 208BC, the festival was only celebrated in the palace and it had a religious aspect.
Prayers were held to mark the festival and people prayed to the deity Tai Yi.
“The emperor used the celebration and the religious rites to show that he had the heavenly mandate to be the ruler,” said Tang
The palace would be adorned with lanterns during this time.
Emperor Wen of the Han Dynasty had won the battle on the 15th day during a coup d’état and to mark his victory, he encouraged a celebration on the day.
It was said that the festival was also intended to spread Buddhism, and people would hang lanterns as part of the celebration.
According to Tee of the Hokkien Association, for some people, Cap Goh Meh is considered the second biggest day for reunion after the reunion feast on the eve Chinese New Year.
It is also the last chance for a gathering during the festive season, hence some would have reunion dinners with their family on this day.
Tang Yuan/Yuan Xiao
While Malaysians usually eat tang yuan (glutinous rice flour balls) during the Winter Solstice (Dong Zhi), people in China, Taiwan, Macao and Hong Kong still adhere to the tradition of eating tang yuan, which are called yuan xiao, during this time of the year.
The reason for eating tang yuan, which sounds similar to tuan yuan (which means “reunion”) is to symbolise harmony and family togetherness.
According to Lee Zee Wen, a Malaysian studying in Taiwan, the Taiwanese call the 15th day “Yuan Xiao Jie”.
And on this day, they eat tang yuan, take part in lantern riddles, and watch lanterns and fireworks display.
“Taipei is pretty quiet during the Lunar New Year as many return to their hometowns in Tainan, Taitung and Taichung (the northern, central and eastern part of Taiwan),” she said.
Lee added that people in the Yanshui district of Tainan (southwest Taiwan) would end the New Year in the form of celebrations literally with a bang with the Yanshui Beehive Fireworks Festival.
According to the Taiwan Tourism site, tradition has it that the “beehive fireworks” originated in 1885 during a cholera epidemic.
As the number of victims increased, people lived in fear and prayed to the god of war Guan Di to save them.
Fireworks are set off as people believe that it helps get rid of calamity and troubles, sweeps away noxious influences and brings increasing good fortune in the new year.
Chinese Valentine’s Day
Chap Goh Meh is also known as the Chinese Valentine’s Day because during ancient times, single women were not allowed to venture out of their homes except on this day.
Hence, it was the time for young ladies to be out and seen and for single men to seek a potential spouse.
In Malaysia, the activity of tossing mandarin oranges into a river can be seen in the Klang Valley, Malacca, Penang and other places with a large Chinese population.
Women would throw mandarin oranges into a river or lake, and men would scoop up the fruits.
In recent years, men have also taken to joining in the fun by throwing bananas.
People would write their contact details on the oranges.
At the Taman Jaya Lake in Petaling Jaya, the annual Chap Goh Meh takes place this very evening.
Bukit Gasing assemblyman Rajiv Rishyakaran said there will be tossing of yee sang, speeches, throwing of mandarin oranges, performances by school students and a lion dance.
As it is just a few days away from Valentine’s Day, it may add to the romantic celebration this year.
However, a check with florists at Petaling Street showed that not many are cashing in on this double celebration.
Prayers for a better year
Some Taoists pray on this day for good luck.
The Taoist prayers are done three times a year, on Shang Yuan Jie (the 15th day of the first month in the lunar calendar), Zhong Yuan Jie (Hungry Ghost Festival) on the 15th of the seventh month, and Xia Yuan Jie on the 15th day of the 10th month.
There will be prayers at the Guan Di Temple and Sin Sze Si Ya Temple in the city centre.
According to a worker at the Sin Sze Si Ya Temple, there will be two Taoist priests conducting prayers today and devotees will turn up to pray for better luck for the year.
People in Vietnam, Tibet, Mongolia, and South Korea usually celebrate only the first three days of the Lunar New Year.
While Tibetan new year can last up to 15 days, emphasis is placed on the first three days.
Sisca Andriani, a Hokkien from Jakarta, said the Chinese community in Indonesia would eat Lontong Chap Goh Meh, a Peranakan-Javanese dish, during this celebration.
“The lontong (rice cake) is accompanied by other items such as chicken stew, eggs, sambal, vegetable soup and prawn crackers.
“People usually release lanterns with wishes on the beach and pray at the temple.
“There is also a barongsai (lion dance) performance.
“There is usually a parade too, with people carrying Buddha statues on the street to the temple,” she said.