Feb 2018 Chinese New Year


A talk by Rose Gan at Ciao restaurant, 7TH February, 2018 for the MCG


This year is the Year of the Dog! Chinese New Year zodiac signs are intriguing and this year we were treated to a fascinating talk by one of our own MCG members, Rose Gan, on the meanings and history of Chinese New Year (CNY) and how it is celebrated in Malaysia. Rose, dressed in an elegant Cheongsam, is an historian and married to a Malaysian Chinese so we all felt we were in good hands as she described the history of CNY.

We learnt that the Chinese calendar has been in use for over 4000 years in China! The 12 months of the year are symbolised by 12 animals and this year happens to be the Year of the Dog. We were given a copy of the Chinese Zodiac signs so we could work out which animal we represented depending on when we were born and whom we should avoid as life partners! There was some giggling amongst the 30 number of MCG members in the audience when some realised their partners were the “wrong” sign and that they had divorced!

The origin of CNY came from a legend of the Nien: A long time ago a monster attacked several villages and destroyed crops in an area of the Yellow River, China. Everyone of course was very afraid but time passed and because it didn’t happen again the villagers forgot about the threat. But then the monster attacked again and then again. An old wise man observed that it happened every 365 days so on the eve of the 364th day he warned the people to be extra vigilant. They found out the monster, now called “Nien” meaning “Year” was afraid of the colour red, bright lights and noise. Hence the people let off loud firecrackers, the houses were brightly lit and fires were lit and everything was painted red. The monster didn’t attack so everyone was very happy and all the gods were prayed to. Thanksgiving celebrations were held and after that every year the villagers would repeat the procedure, which came to be known as Chinese New Year.

CNY in Malaysia is celebrated with various rituals. Before CNY the house must be spring cleaned, new clothes bought, and huge amounts of food baked or bought, the house must be decorated, new goods bought, debts settled and businesses closed. On the eve of CNY the family gathers for a big reunion dinner and firecrackers are common to ward off evil spirits. The ancestors eat before the family. On the actual 1st day families stay together and adults give out ang pao (red packets) to children containing new crisp notes (never an odd number). A visit to the temple usually happens and everyone dresses in their new red and gold coloured clothes.


Lots of delicacies are served and often they have associations with good luck and prosperity. For example; fish = means abundance, prawns = laughter and happiness = dried oyster and Fatt choy for prosperity, followed by sweets for sweetness of the new year.

This is just a snippet of what we discovered about CNY. After the talk, we ventured outside and were treated to a Lion dance accompanied by a small group of young musicians with drums and cymbals, making lots of noise. It was fantastic watching the acrobatics of the Lions. At the end of the performance they give the organiser, in this case Marianne (our Events Coordinator), a token of some mandarins accompanied with messages of well wishes for the new year. After the obligatory photo session we went inside to “toss the salad”. Yee Sang is a truly Malaysian staple at CNY. Everyone stands around the dish after someone is delegated to put all the ingredients on a plate and then you toss the salad with chop sticks chanting “Lo Hei, Lo Hei, Lo Hei” as high as you dare as the higher you toss the more prosperous you become for that year. Oh, it’s delicious too!

Thanks to Rose for such an interesting and informative talk and to Marianne and Michelle for organising another great event. Thanks also to the Xuan Long Dragon &Lion troupe and to Ciao restaurant.

Gong Xi Fa Cai!




Janine Williams