‘In the New Year, never forget to thank to your past years because they enabled you to reach today! Without the stairs of the past, you cannot arrive at the future!

– MEHMET MURAT ILDAN, TURKISG AUTHOR AND PLAYWRIGHT 

Happy Chinese New Year to all of you who will be welcoming the Lunar New Year of the Metal Rat this coming Saturday. Gong Xi Fa Cai (“best and prosperous wishes” for the coming year) to you all.

By now, most houses will be spick and span for the Chinese New Year after much cleaning. What about yours?

Many housewives would have bought new pieces of tablecloths, curtains and cushion covers for their sofas. They would also have stocked up Chinese New Year goodies and drinks for their visitors. Every family member would have bought new clothes and shoes for the Chinese New Year too.

Many Chinese believe they should buy new things for the new year to prepare for a new start. For them, all clothes and accessories worn on New Year’s Day should be brand new.

Some families make it a point to wear traditional Chinese clothing like qipao on the first day of the Chinese New Year while many others opt to wear Western-style clothes.  

Will you be wearing bright red clothes this Chinese New Year, too? Because red signifies luck and prosperity, many traditional families will be decked in red during the festival. You see lots of bright red clothes at clothing stores, too.

In the olden days, black and white clothes were never worn during the new year. Black is associated with death, depression and other inauspicious things while white is a mourning colour usually worn at funerals. But nowadays, many youngsters, who do not care for traditions, wear black and white clothes during the new year. It is a sign of the changing times. 

Do you know that Chinese New Year is celebrated by more than 20 per cent of the world and the most important festival in China? In Malaysia, it is the biggest and most important annual festival for the Chinese.

Many Chinese all over the world try to be home for the reunion dinner on New Year’s Eve. Have all your family members, including those who are studying and working overseas or in other states, come home yet?

In China, the Chinese New Year travel rush usually begins 15 days ahead of the Chinese New Year and lasts for about 40 days. The Chinese New Year, which is China’s biggest and longest national holiday, also causes the biggest and longest annual period of transport stress in the world.

Since the Chinese New Year is also a long holiday in Sarawak, airports and bus stations are also crowded now with celebrants rushing home for the reunion dinner on Jan 24 and people of other races grabbing the chance to catch up with their families in their hometowns.

Many Chinese shops in the state will be closed during the festival and only open on the fourth day. In the olden days, many families had to make sure they had enough food in the house during the long holiday. If they ran out of rice and other essential items, they had to look high and low for a shop to buy them. For a Chinese family, it would be unlucky to run short of food in the new year.

When I was young, my father ensured we stocked our fridge well with food to last for at least a week. Now, with the existence of many 24-hour supermarkets and non-Chinese shops, we can buy food anywhere and anytime.

Do you know of any Chinese New Year legends? Well, according to one, there was once a monster named Nian. It would appear on New Year’s Eve, forcing many people to hide in their homes. But one little boy was brave enough to fight off the creature with firecrackers.

The next day, the people celebrated their survival by setting off more firecrackers. After that, firecrackers became an important part of the New Year. 

Although firecrackers are banned in Malaysia, they will be set off in others parts of the world on the eve of the Chinese New Year at midnight and again in the morning to welcome the new year and good luck.

The Chinese New Year is a time for family reunions, merriment and good food. Let all Malaysians join in the festive fun to strengthen national unity and harmony.

To all celebrants, Happy Chinese New Year and Gong Xi Fa Cai once again!