THE annual Chingay procession, widely known as the “closing ceremony” to Chinese New Year for Johor Baru folk, may have been cancelled this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic but locals have warm memories of this century-old celebration.
While disappointed with the cancellation, university student Gan Khai Loon said it was necessary to keep the public safe from Covid-19 infections as Chingay usually drew large crowds.
The 22-year-old, who has been attending the Chingay procession for as long as he can remember, said his parents used to bring him along when he was little and he now attended with friends.
“We would usually gather at the Xing Gong temple along Jalan Ulu Ayer Molek at around 5pm and walk along the 8km-route, usually ending around 1am the next day.
“To me, it is an iconic event and the pride of Johor, ” said Gan, adding that he had always been fascinated by Chingay and this motivated him to read up and learn about its history.
Johor’s annual Chingay procession, which in 2021 would have been its 151st, is celebrated on the 18th to 22nd day of the Lunar New Year.
It includes a grand procession along an 8km route where devotees carry the five clan deities –- Teochew, Hokkien, Hakka, Cantonese and Hainan –- on palanquins for a tour of the city centre.
The procession was supposed to take place on March 4, which was the 21st day of the Lunar New Year.
Aside from lion and dragon dances and cultural performances, other highlights of the procession included colourful and creative floats, fireworks and stunts involving giant flag poles.
For insurance agent Lim Kim Tyan, 27, the procession holds an additional significance as she has been participating as a Malaysian Red Crescent Society Johor Baru branch member since 2013.
Being on duty as a frontliner, she and her team were tasked to respond to emergencies during the event, from cuts to falls.
Part of the ritual was to vigorously sway the deity palanquins to spread fortune and blessings, she said.
“That is when many devotees will rush towards the palanquins in hopes of touching them for good luck.
“One of the most memorable incidents for me was in 2014 where a devotee got knocked on the head by one of the palanquins.
“There was an open wound on the top of his head and we pulled him to the side to give him emergency medical aid.
“Despite being dizzy and bleeding profusely, the man refused to go to the hospital and told us that he wanted to continue walking in the procession, ” she said, adding that he eventually agreed to be sent in an ambulance.
Lim hopes that the Covid-19 pandemic will be over next year so that Chingay can be held once again.
Marketing manager Nuha Abdullah, 47, who has attended the event four times, said the Chingay procession was a symbol of unity.
“I admire how people come together and work with the authorities to ensure the event goes smoothly.
“I usually attend the event with my friends and my favourite parts are the cultural performances and watching the floats go by.
“Hopefully, we will get to witness it again next year, ” she said.