Chap Goh Mei this Friday

The best feeling is when you look at him and he is already staring. – Unknown

A happy and prosperous Chinese New Year to all of you who are celebrating the festival.

Today is already the 10th day of the Lunar New Year. How time flies! The celebration will officially end this Friday, Feb 26, with the Chap Goh Mei or Chinese Valentine’s Day.

How has the celebration been for all of you? Very quiet, indeed, with no open houses because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

This year, there are no long lines of visitors to the houses of dignitaries or houses of ordinary people. The celebration is limited to family members living in the same house.

No cultural activities like lion and dragon dances, parades, Chinese opera and stage performances are allowed by the National Security Council.  House-to-house visits and inter-district or interstate travel to visit family members and friends are not allowed too. These are the standard operating procedures to contain the spread of Covid-19.

I miss the noisy and colourful lion and dragon dances this year. Previously, before the emergence of Covid-19, these dances were most common during the Chinese New Year.

Clad in colourful costumes, the performers mimic a lion’s or a dragon’s movements to vigorous beatings of the drums to usher in good luck and fortune.

Members of different cultural associations practise hard for months to master the difficult skills which they proudly demonstrate during the Chinese New Year.

For obvious reasons, the dancers are usually young and energetic. Lorries carrying them are often seen on the road during the Chinese New Year as they move from one premises to another to stage their performances.

Although this year’s Chinese New Year is quiet for Malaysian celebrants, it remains the most important and significant celebration for my family.

It is the start of a brand-new year — the Year of the Metal Ox. It is time to forget the past and forge ahead with new dreams and start life anew.

All of us had had a lengthy vacation, rested well and regained our energy for a brand-new year. We had a big family reunion dinner on Feb 11, the eve of the Chinese New Year. We posed happily and proudly for our family portraits which would remind us years later of this year’s celebration under the new normal.  We also stayed up late to watch fireworks at midnight.

In Chinese culture, red is a lucky colour. So, during the Chinese New Year, many things are red including the boxes of mandarin oranges that we bought from the shops or received as gifts, the ang pow (red envelopes containing cash) we give or receive, and of course, the table cloths, curtains and our clothes on New Year’s Day.

For the Chinese, the Chap Goh Mei meal is the most important after the family reunion dinner. Chap Goh Mei, in Hokkien, means “the 15th night of the Chinese New Year”. It also signifies the end of the 15-day celebration.

Do you know the beautiful folklore connected with Chap Goh Mei? In ancient times, single girls were not allowed to go out except during Chap Goh Mei when they could visit temples accompanied by their maids.

Hence, Chap Goh Mei was the time for eligible young men to catch glimpses of these girls. That is why the festival is known as Chinese Valentine’s Day. On this day, single girls would also throw tangerines in the sea or river in hopes of marrying good husbands. Now, since young single girls are no longer confined to their homes, no one does this anymore except for fun.

With so much news about the impending nationwide Covid-19 vaccination programme for Malaysians lately, I hope things will return to normal next year when the Chinese will welcome the Year of the Tiger.

Although I have been keeping in touch with my family members, particularly my sisters, this Chinese New Year through WhatsApp video calls, I prefer face-to-face meetings. I look forward to welcoming them home and letting them do all the Chinese New Year cooking as I relax.

Besides that, I look forward to the sights and sounds of the colourful lion and dragon dances again.

To conclude, Happy Chap Goh Mei to all Chinese friends!