Chinese New Year always falls in the months of January or February, and each Chinese New Year is represented by 1 of the 12 creatures of the Chinese Zodiac – 2015 is the year of the Sheep.
Chinese New Year is also known as the Spring Festival and in pre-modern times it would signal to farmers in China that they must begin preparation for the sowing of their fields.
The Spring Festival was the product of an agrarian society. The people who were farmers would plant in spring, harvest in autumn, relax a little in summer and rest in winter.
The seasons thus became a living cycle and the harvests were dependant on nature. Qi Dongye and Lu Xianwen
After Christmas each year, the Christmas decorations come down in all the malls, and are quickly replaced with Chinese New Year decorations of lanterns, cherry blossoms, orange-trees and lots of red colour.
In the lead-up to Chinese New Year, distinct classical spring festival music is played in public places, most commonly the bowed-stringed instrumental style. The traditional display of dragon dances are also commonplace across the country.
The most important element of Chinese New Year is the reunion dinner, which is held on the eve of the New Year. This is the time when all family members will come for a meal together in the parents’ or eldest brother’s home, or nowadays in restaurants as well.
The reunion dinner spread is usually lavish, with multiple courses including dishes of chicken, pork and fish. In Malaysia, a dish called yee sang is the first to be served.
Yee sang, also known as the Prosperity Toss, is a teochew-style raw fish salad and everyone at the table will help to mix this salad with their chopsticks – with lots of noise and laughter. The tradition is that the higher you toss the salad, the more your fortunes will grow in the New Year.
Gift giving is an important component of Chinese New Year in Malaysia and the most common gifts amongst family, colleagues and business contacts are the boxes of oranges, or the live orange trees.
Ang-poh – little red packets with new currency notes inside – are given to children, single adults and the elderly, and for children this is often the most exciting part of the celebration. A child with many uncles and aunties can potentially collect a lot of money from their ang-poh gifts.
The Chinese New Year festivities officially last for 15 days, culminating in Chap Goh Mei – meaning the 15th night. Chap Goh Mei is celebrated with a family meal, music and decorations similar to the reunion dinner.
Most states of Malaysia provide two official public holidays for the first two days of Chinese New Year, however Kelantan and Terengganu only provide a holiday for the first day.