CHAP Goh Mei, which is Hokkien for “15th night”, symbolises the end of the Chinese New Year. The festival’s origins are uncertain, as there are many legends surrounding it.
Legend has it that a beautiful crane flew down to earth from heaven only to be slaughtered by some villagers.
The crane was the Jade Emperor’s favourite crane, and he was angered by its death. He vowed vengeance against the villagers.
On the 15th lunar day, the Jade Emperor planned to send a storm of fire down. But his daughter, Zhi Nu, took pity on the villagers.
She warned the villagers about their impending doom, and they were troubled as they could not see a way out.
Then, a wise man from another village came up with the suggestion for every family to hang red lanterns around their houses, set up bonfires on the streets and set off firecrackers on the 14th, 15th and 16th lunar days. On the 15th day, the troops descended from heaven with orders to incinerate the village, but saw that it was already “ablaze” and returned to report to the Jade Emperor.
Since then, people celebrated the anniversary of the 15th lunar day every year by carrying lanterns on the street and setting off firecrackers.
To some, Chap Goh Mei is known as the Chinese Valentine’s Day.
This is because a long time ago Chap Goh Mei was the only day that young maidens were allowed to dress up and stroll on the street, albeit having to be accompanied by fierce chaperones.
Young men would then go out, hoping to catch a sight of the rarely-seen maidens.
Young women also went to temples to pray, hoping for the heavens to send them a suitable match.
Matchmakers took the opportunity to strike up marriages between eligible individuals.
Another ancient practice saw young maidens throwing oranges into the lakes. The belief was that the man who picked up their orange would be their future match.
The Mandarin oranges would also symbolise the presence of a maiden of marriageable age. This tradition has survived till present times.
Today, Malaysians tend to congregate around bodies of water at night. Lanterns inscribed with wishes are lit, providing a sparse light source, and some are released into the night.
Eligible bachelorettes inscribe Mandarin oranges with their names and their contact numbers, and then throw them into lakes or ponds. Young men hoping to meet new people will wait with nets to fish out the oranges.
These days, single men and women alike throw inscribed oranges in the spirit of celebrating Chap Goh Mei in a fun way.
Some people write good wishes on their oranges, while others are just looking to meet new people. Granted, there are some who are looking for that special person, whether or not they believe in the likelihood of it happening through a chance introduction via a mandarin orange!
For some youths, it’s just a quaint tradition, a day to mark the end of celebrating the lunar new year.
College student Yong Zhen Li feels that Chap Goh Mei is pretty much like any other day to him although he admitted that the accompanying festivities help enliven the last day of Chinese New Year for him.
“For me, it’s just a day to mark the end of the 15 days of celebrating Chinese New Year.
“We have had one week of holidays, so this one day to mark an end to a festival period doesn’t mean much to me,” said Yong.
Others joked that after Chap Goh Mei, the “legitimate” period to collect ang pow would be over. Yong’s collegemate, Mark Chin, 21, said that although it wasn’t the sum inside the red packets that mattered, it was their last day to obtain more red packets.
“I know it’s just a tradition, but an ang pow is still an ang pow,” he laughed.
The tradition of throwing oranges in the hope of landing a husband has also slowly evolved into a fun activity, rather than a superstitious belief that the man who picks up the girl’s floating Mandarin orange would be her future spouse.
Another college student, Jean Chua highly doubts that throwing a Mandarin orange into a lake was an effective way to meet a life partner.
Nevertheless, Chua said that she and her girlfriends would take advantage of the long weekend to go to one of the Chap Goh Mei parties being held at various waterfront locations in the Klang Valley.
“Just for the fun of it,” she added.
Sales executive Tan Mei Yin said that she had enjoyed participating in 2011’s Chap Goh Mei celebrations, and looked forward to celebrating Chap Goh Mei with her friends again, although she would not be bringing oranges to throw into the water.
“I quite enjoy the atmosphere. Some friends I know get a kick out of throwing the oranges. And it’s even funnier when the guys come with huge fishing nets to fish the oranges out,” said Tan.
She added that she had on previous occasions also written her phone number and e-mail address on her Mandarin oranges, although she met her current boyfriend through more conventional circumstances.