Chinese New Year is almost here. Even if you are not celebrating it yourself, like with all Malaysian holidays, the festive spirit is very contagious. After years in Malaysia lot of it is still a mystery to me, though – like why the fireworks must happen for nights and nights on end and what happens to all those mandarins and oranges in the end (do people really eat all of them?). TV adverts reveal some of the cultural nuances and traditions. You can also read this post for more on Chinese New Year family traditions.
These are the things that will catch your eye across the city:
We love this art form! Or is it sport? During the festive season lion dances can be seen and heard everywhere. Many condos have a lion dance performance, and all shopping malls have a vast variety of programme on during the festive season. You can find a list of lion dance performances in KL on Happy Go KL – it gets updated as programmes get published .
One of the famous dragon and lion dance troupes is Khuan Loke. We know there are many little aspiring lion dancers around – for them it might be a great idea to go and follow one of their practices. This is best done outside the festive season, though.
It seems the shops in Chinatown pack away the Christmas stuff on Christmas day and overnight they roll out the CNY decoration – go for atmosphere even if you are not shopping. Fun’n Cheer in Kepong (Jalan 6/37A, Taman Bukit Maluri) normally has a wide range of cheap decoration, whatever the festival. Last year some lion heads were purchased there, I can reveal. Outside the festive season it stocks similar items to Mr. DIY – cheap and cheerful as well, but not very long lasting. In 2019, there is also a huge bazaar at Bukit Jalil.
Malls and other public places have fantastic decoration made for taking selfies (really), as obviously do temples. One of the most famous for its elaborate decoration in KL is Thean Hou Temple. It is a great place to visit with kids – there is a lot going on and they love the huge zodiac animal statues next to the temple.
Central Market is abuzz at Chinese New Year, and will have free perfomances throughout the festival – you can check the schedule here.
Most Chinese families have large reunion dinners on Chinese New Year eve and during the festive season. Many families now choose to have the reunion dinner in restaurants and you can try to book one yourself if you are early enough to snag a table in one of the more popular restaurants. The food is symbolic and representation of all that is prosperous and wealthy for the coming year: abalone, whole fish, broccoli, scallops and longevity noodles, for example. There’s also lots of snacking on ‘prosperity’ food like groundnuts and pineapple tarts. And of course the specialty of the peninsula, yee sang.
Traffic chaos on CNY
If you are not on your way to your holiday already, it’s pretty much too late to make any plans – prices skyrocket and traffic is murder. Sit back and enjoy KL without traffic jams. People keep on telling everyone to avoid driving to Penang, Singapore of Melaka due to hellish jams, so I have never done so and have no first hand experience on this. If you are on the road, have a look at the website of PLUS highway, they normally publish a travel time advisory to help people plan their journey outside the worst jams.
Oranges and little envelopes
Oranges are symbolic in many ways and are found in abundance this time of the year. They seem to be called interchangeably mandarins, oranges or mandarin oranges but are generally sweet and have pips. The are given as gifts and play a role even in the lion dance.
Ang paos, the little ubiquitous envelopes are an important part of the festival and are given to family and friends according to certain rules. As a foreigner you generally are not expected to worry about the gifting and it’s complexities, but no harm trying. If you get invited to an open house (typically Malaysian way of celebrating local festivals) embrace the opportunity and enjoy the food! And as always in Malaysia, it’s all about the food.
As Malaysia has a number of annual festivals, if you have school aged kids you should really have a selection of appropriate outfits handy. If you don’t want to spend a lot of money, Tesco is a safe bet. Be early though, since they tend to run out of sizes. Central market has a good selection of traditional clothes also in better quality.
Light sleepers and those with dogs, be aware. The firecracker season has already started, and the two weeks of celebrations will bring many firework-filled nights. Midnight is the time to start apparently. Stock up on earplugs.
Prices rise and services shut
You may have noticed a certain buzz in getting things done before the CNY. If you need a plumber or AC repair, tough luck – it may prove hard to get one before end of February. Car wash places start following a “public holiday pricing” and finding a parking spot at the mall gets more difficult by the day. Many small shops and restaurants close at least for the two days, sometimes for as long as two weeks, so check before heading out. Shopping and eating being almost like religions in Malaysia, most shopping centres and large restaurants remain open.
A more scientific explanation on the CNY festivities can be found here. Also read this post on family traditions of Chinese New Year.