It's that time of the year again when the Chinese people of Malaysia celebrate the Chinese New Year, the first day of the first lunar month in the Chinese calendar. The great thing about ethnic festivals in Malaysia is that regardless of your religious or spiritual persuasion, you won't feel left out during such festivities. And Chinese New Year is no exception. After all, everyone gets two days off work.
As opposed to other holidays that are religion-specific, Chinese New Year requires no such commitment to faith or belief. The only stipulation is that you be, well, Chinese. As with all things Chinese, the New Year will revolve around ideas of prosperity, wealth, good fortune, auspiciousness and health. And many, many time honored traditions and customs (you don't want to know).
You'll also be seeing red, but in a good way, as Chinese recognize the color red as a symbolism of wealth, fortune and happiness. By now you would have identified the subtext of money and its importance to the Chinese but of course, one should never be so crude as to suggest CNY is a celebration of currency. It's really all about family and new beginnings. And prosperity.
The CNY festivities typically start with the Reunion Dinner whereby families near and far gather to have the meal on the Eve of the CNY. This normally sets the scene for reluctant reconciliation and temporary truces while each member compares their good fortune over the past year and compete to see who has accomplished more. It's also a good time to interrogate members of the family who are single and attempt to set them up with "someone nice". Following a meal that will entail plenty of jostling for food and biting criticism subsequently, there'll probably be a gambling session (notice the subtext again). Some people will observe superstitions such as washing hands of bad luck or donning lucky underwear.
On the First Day of the CNY, families visit their elders and each other's houses. Red packets will be exchanged. Children will sneak away to inspect the contents of said packets. Families resume eating traditional CNY meals and another round of gambling will take place. At night, there'll be a showcase of fireworks. The more ostentatious Chinese folk will purchase the loudest and most colorful fireworks displays to ring in the New Year (rule of thumb: big and loud is very CNY).
And then it goes on for another 14 days of pretty much the same thing happening but on an increasingly smaller scale as the celebrations dwindle and routine sets in. By then you'll have ODed on Mandarin oranges and peanuts, conducted your red packet balance sheet, gambled away a small fortune, watched a few lion dances and seen off annoying relatives until the following year. All in all, a very productive holiday.
Remember that this is a glorious opportunity to get in the good graces of your Chinese Malaysian friends. Wear lots of red, gush about the rich culture and traditions of CNY and lose some money to the host of the open house you're attending. Consider it your contribution to the sustenance of Chinese heritage.