Chap Goh Mei

by Audrey Lim, Jun 2, 2003 | Destinations: Malaysia / Kuala Lumpur

Chinese kids love New Year celebrations. It is a celebration full of festive cheers, good food, and not forgetting, the many ang paus (red packets that married folks give to the unmarried ones) that come our way. It was even more wonderful that Chinese New Year last a whole good fifteen days. Usually, the celebrations would have died down considerably by the tenth day for my family; however, that is not the end to a wonderful start of a new year.

On the fifteenth day of Chinese New Year, technically the final day of the festival, is a day known as Chap Goh Mei. In the Hokkien dialect, Chap Goh Mei simply means "the 15th night of Chinese New Year". Aside from being tagged as the last day, Chap Goh Mei is also known as the Chinese Valentine's Day. On a celebratory point of view, this night sees the gathering of family members as they sit down to a meal together. Offerings and prayers are also held on a grand scale on this particular night.

Just like Chinese New Year, Chap Goh Mei is celebrated with lots of fireworks and firecrackers. This much is true for countries that allow the use of these celebratory items. You will also see many homes gaily decorated with red lanterns and bright lights to mark the end of an auspicious occasion. In temples, thanksgivings are held while many people would be asking for the God of Prosperity to endow them with success and wealth for the coming year.

In some parts of town, you will also be able to witness cultural performances, lantern displays, lion dances and the famous Chingay (flag-balancing) procession. On a legendary point of view, Chap Goh Mei being regarded as the Chinese Valentine's Day, also brings forth lots of fun and gaiety. It is well-known that Chap Goh Mei is a night of courtship and has since been the forerunner in promoting match-making. On this night, many young ladies would make their way to the temples, dressed in their best, with hope of finding prospective suitors.

One of the fun activities that take place on this auspicious night includes the throwing of oranges into the sea by these young maidens. It is without a doubt, the most popular and colorful moment in the history of Chap Goh Mei. It is believed that by throwing tangerines into the sea, these young girls would find themselves a good husband. For many, the act of throwing tangerines into the sea also signifies that these women are available for marriage. It is also said that if someone else who sees the floating tangerine in the water and picked it up, that generally means that the single who threw it would be able to find a good spouse.

Funnily, while many of us may have imagined that such a tradition is passed forth from China, it is strangely not. In fact, this interesting practice originated from a little Malaysian island known as Penang. This took place some time towards the end of the 19th century. On a yearly basis, a large crowd would flock to the Esplanade thus jamming up the roads badly. On top of that, tangerines are sold at an exorbitantly high price but then again, who says romance is cheap?

Another story of the Chinese Valentine's Day also states that this is the only day in the whole year that young maidens are allowed to stroll the streets. However, they must be accompanied by a chaperon. Knowing this fact, many young men would gather around with hope of catching glimpses of these lovely maidens. According to the legend, there will be a matchmaker from the moon who would tie red strings of destiny on their legs. As a result, the couple will end up being together.

Although "young maidens" flock the streets freely these days thus the matchmaker from moon is not exactly needed anymore, yet the tradition of throwing tangerines into the sea still prevails. While many no longer believe in the legend, yet it is still a fun thing to do or observe. Sadly, not many people in the big cities are practicing this custom anymore. However, the tradition prevails nonetheless.

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