IT ALL started back in October when a fellow parent from my daughter’s school asked me if I had bought an Indian costume for the Deepavali celebration. That sent us scrambling to Brickfields to scout for Indian costumes for a school dance.
We had just settled our four-year -old in her new school and as we looked over their calendar, we were pleasantly surprised at the number of both school and public holidays combined.
Our family was then invited to an authentic Indian family’s Deepavali lunch celebration.
Our host picked us up on schedule at 11am and we convoyed to Rawang, about an hour’s drive from Kuala Lumpur.
We were showered with presents upon arrival; colourful salwar kameez princess outfits for my two daughters and a saree for me.
Traditional delicacies were served followed by a feast of curried mutton, beef and chicken, and all other Indian delights.
Most were hot and spicy, some set our mouths aflame, and it was a totally heady and delightful sensory experience.
Hari Raya celebrations followed in November, and December signalled the Christmas festivities at school, that kicked off with morning tea where the children had to come in their fancy dresses. The search for princess outfits, coupled with a reindeer costume for a school dance number, sent me on another round of shopping.
Just as the feasts were over and the New Year fireworks subsided, our neighbourhood chain grocery put up bright red, pink and magenta lanterns with gold trimmings signalling the start of the Chinese New Year celebration in January.
Having completed my now- increasing wardrobe of traditional wear for the school’s CNY programme, we booked our own reunion dinner with our friends despite the fact that we’re not exactly Chinese.
It was hard not to be buoyed by the festive atmosphere and the red dragons hanging all over the place.
Our girls also came home from school bringing gold, red and pink ang pow packets for several weeks.
We had friends gifting us with boxes of Mandarin oranges that I am now so convinced we are going to be swimming in gold this year!
We came back from Malacca on the ninth day of the Chinese lunar year, late in January.
It seemed like the universe had conspired to ensure everybody knew it was Gong Xi Fa Cai!
Villages around our residential area made a symphony of firecrackers lasting two hours long.
As the Hokkiens were done praying to the Jade Emperor and the midnight fireworks subsided in the wee hours of the following morning, the festivities had taken their toll on my family.
Celebration fatigue slowly crept in. I woke up the next day feeling like a zombie, sleepless from the previous nights’ deafening explosions.
I have never been a party pooper, but when you have one sick toddler recovering from a fever and a four- year-old nursing one, you pray to the high heavens for the noise to subside so they can both get a proper night’s rest.
But it was the Chinese lunar new year after all and the planets were not aligned on my side.
As we laid in bed and waited for the banging and the booming to end, my feverish daughter whispered in her hoarse voice, “It is too noisy Mama, I cannot sleep.”
I held her close and whispered back, “It is alright, it will be all over soon.”
I’m all for auspiciousness and prosperity but the only prayer I had that night was Please.Make.Them.Stop.
The next day, as we were standing outside our garage, our Chinese neighbour sauntered toward us.
“Happy NewYear!” we greeted him. “Those were some firecrackers last night eh?”
“Yeah, it must be hard for you. I know how you feel, but no one ever complains. The ninth day is a very important date in the Hokkien calendar and it is of absolute importance that it must be greeted with the loudest noise. Even if we complain for the fireworks here to be stopped, the other subdivisions will have their own fireworks and we will still hear that,” he explained so cheerfully that we could not help but bob our heads enthusiastically in agreement with him.
Over brunch with friends a few days later, the unavoidable topic of the unending fireworks came up.
One recounted her experience about a neighbour who lighted up the sky at 3am in the morning, setting off all car and burglar alarms in their entire street.
She begged her husband to ask them to stop but her husband burrowed himself deep under the covers and replied, “I cannot do that. This is a very important date for them. The Hokkiens have to create all this noise because they are banishing evil spirits and expecting their princess to come out after…”
Unable to withstand the ongoing barrage anymore, she donned her robe, went out to their balcony and called out to her neighbours to stop the fireworks.
The neighbour quickly extinguished the fire he was about to light to set off another round, followed by an apologetic wave of his hand.
Silence finally descended and she went back under the covers muttering, “I guess I must be the princess they were waiting to come out after all.”
And just like that, after attending all the open houses in early February it was time to celebrate Chap Goh Meh. We then braved the traffic jams over the recent weekend.
Now excuse me while I get ready for tomorrow’s Valentine’s Day. Happy Hearts’ Day everyone.
Born and raised in the Philippines, Melinda is a marketing executive, entrepreneur and writer who just moved from the Netherlands to KL. This intrepid traveller loves scuba diving, good food and wine, and is happy to be back in the tropics with her Dutch husband and two daughters.