GEORGE TOWN: The elaborate ways in which the Jade Emperor’s birthday is celebrated in Penang has wowed visitors from all over, even those from China.
Danna Zhu, 30, from Yunnan, was stunned by the extent to which Penangites celebrated the birthday of Thnee Kong Seh (Hokkien for Jade Emperor).
The student was celebrating Chinese New Year for the first time away from home, and she chose to do so in Malaysia.
She was in Penang on Sunday night and dropped by the iconic Chew Jetty to marvel at the thousands of people gathered for prayers and offerings.
“The atmosphere of the celebrations here is much more festive compared with how we celebrate in my hometown,” she said, adding that in China, most people would perform simple prayers on the first and 15th day of the lunar month.
“I am glad that the Chinese community in Malaysia still practise these traditions to the fullest.
“I hope that the tradition will be passed on to future generations,” she said, adding that she came to Malaysia about two weeks ago and planned on pursuing her doctorate studies here.
After two years of muted celebrations, the crowd – consisting of both locals and tourists – returned in full force along the clan jetties of Weld Quay here from as early as 6pm, even though the event proper only began at midnight.
The annual affair, now in its 116th year, saw devotees gathered along a more than 12m-long grand altar, in front of the newly restored Chau Yuan Gong Temple.
Various offerings such as rice wine, ang koo (bean paste cake), mee koo (red tortoise bun), huat kuih (prosperity cake), roasted meat and fruits were placed along it.
Sugar cane stalks were also tied around the altar, which was brightly lit with red lanterns, while people held up joss sticks and prayed in silence.
In the past, a 60m-long altar would be laid out along Weld Quay.
As most of the residents here are elderly, the organisers decided to host the ceremony in front of the temple instead of on the main road to make it easier for them.
Lee Chew Khim, 50, said she had just returned from Singapore.
“In previous years, more than 35 of us from four generations celebrated together,” she said, adding that after her mother passed away, coupled with the pandemic, fewer family members had gathered.
This time around, Lee and her family celebrated the event by setting up tables for offerings of fruits, traditional kuih, various roast meats and joss paper at their ancestral home at Lee Jetty.
Penang Island City Council enforcement officer Rishi Kesh, 44, brought his wife and three young sons to watch the celebrations.
“Since we live nearby, we came by motorcycle to avoid the traffic,” he said.
Pengkalan Kota assemblyman Daniel Gooi, who is the event chairman, expressed his joy that the event proved to be a success, especially with strong cooperation from the local community.
Among the local leaders present were Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow, Deputy Education Minister and Tanjong MP Lim Hui Ying, Bagan MP and DAP chairman Lim Guan Eng, and MCA vice-president Datuk Tan Teik Cheng.
In Chinese folklore, the Jade Emperor rescued the ancestors of the Hokkiens from the clutches of an invading army.
Since then, Hokkiens celebrate the ninth day of the Lunar New Year on a scale that is far grander than the first day.
Apart from lion dances on stilts and dragon dances, there was also a 24-season drum performance.