Every year, businesswoman Kathy Chew who runs a childcare centre in Kuala Lumpur, looks forward eagerly to Chinese New Year.
“It’s one of my favourite times of the year – a time to get together with family, a time to remove the bad and the old, and welcome the good and the new. It’s also a time to feast, as well as visit relatives and friends,” says Chew.
Of course, this wasn’t possible last year because of the pandemic, so there’s all the more reason to look forward to this Chinese New Year since interstate restrictions have been lifted and she can balik kampung to celebrate with her parents and other family members.
For Chew, one of the exciting things about Chinese New Year is the preparation leading up to the festivities.
“About one to two weeks before CNY, I’ll start counting down to CNY – doing spring cleaning, shopping for new clothes, buying CNY cookies and snacks, and visiting the morning market to feel the atmosphere,” she says.
“Every year, I’ll also be listening to the radio stations that play new CNY songs, and also putting up CNY decorations like cherry blossoms and couplets (auspicious Chinese poems),” she adds.
Chew usually returns to her hometown, Taiping, Perak, to see her parents during Chinese New Year. This year, she plans to bring her mother to shop for plants at the nursery too.
Festivity of food
Her mother, who is an excellent cook, has already planned an elaborate menu of homemade food for the reunion dinner on the eve and first day of the New Year, and Chew is looking forward to that.
This year, the dishes include pork ribs curry, garlic steamed prawns, Foochow red wine chicken, and bak kien (deep fried meat rolls). The highlight is of course the "year of the tiger" themed yee sang, which Chew will be preparing personally.
“I’ve been searching the Internet for recipes for this,” she says enthusiastically.
Every year, Chew’s mother makes Chinese New Year cookies and snacks such as pineapple tarts, peanut cookies, muruku, and kuih loyang (rose cookies). She also bakes fruitcake, chocolate butter cake and pandan chiffon cake.
The best part is that all that cooking and baking is a family activity for Chew, her mother and sister-in-law as they prepare the Chinese New Year delicacies together in the kitchen, as the radio blares out Chinese New Year songs, she says.
Special family traditions
On the first day of Chinese New Year, Chew’s mother will cook her favourite dish – Foochow red wine chicken mee sua (wheat vermicelli) – and fried nian gao (New Year cake made of glutinous rice flour). Then, the whole family – which comprises Chew, her parents, her elder brother, younger brother, sister-in-law (younger brother’s wife) and two nieces will dress up in red for a family photo.
“This is our annual CNY tradition that we’ll practise without fail, except last year during the MCO,” she says. “We also give our elderly family members (parents) ang pows to bless them, and play sparklers with the kids,” she adds.
“This year, it’ll be extra special since we weren’t able to celebrate together last year due to the MCO. I’m excited because we’ve a longer break with CNY sandwiched between two weekends, so I’ll be able to spend more time with my parents and other family members,” says Chew.
“We also have relatives who’ll be coming for the family reunion from the north and south of Malaysia – particularly my uncle and cousin from Johor whom we haven’t seen for two years since the pandemic started.
“We’ll be having loh sang and a steamboat dinner with them at our home,” she says.
“But we also have a few relatives and friends who live and work overseas and they aren’t able to make it back for CNY due to the pandemic. So we’ll still keep in touch with them through WhatsApp and video calls,” she adds.
Another tradition Chew and her family practise is staying up late to usher in the Chinese New Year, as it’s believed that this will bring longevity to one’s parents.
All in all, Chew anticipates that it'll be a great CNY this year because the whole family will be together – whether in person or virtually.
"It'll be a more meaningful CNY celebration this year after the long time apart during the pandemic," she concludes.