Chinese New Year is here again. But times have changed and this festival has evolved. It is now very commercialized. Home-made traditional biscuits are replaced by factory-produced biscuits. Sales of greeting cards have dropped due to e-cards and app messages. Giving ang pow is still in practice but the trend is moving towards e-ang pow instead. Soon, I won’t be surprised bitcoin is the latest trend to replace ang pow!

Lost Meaning

It is customary to call a long list of relative names before we start our first meal at the reunion dinner. “Grandpa, grandma, pa, ma, first uncle, second uncle, third uncle, first auntie to second auntie and more”. Such practice is rarely observed these days.

And worse, the significance of homecoming for reunion has changed. Some bachelors and bachelorettes take up “rent-a-girlfriend or boyfriend” plans to avoid the pressure of being asked to marry from family and relatives.

Other fading traditions include the observing of taboos which the young generation doesn’t care much about it. These include avoid wearing black, sweeping floors, washing hair, using sharp objects, breaking objects and crying.

Even the tossing of mandarin oranges during Chap Goh Meh (15th day of Chinese New Year) has changed. Young maidens with bound feet used to toss oranges to the river or sea to seek their future husband. Today, the practice is just symbolic with no more women with bound feet. Women will just write their phone numbers on the mandarin orange and throw them into the lake or sea for luck with men.

Art and Foods

Another dying tradition is calligraphy writing. “There used to be many calligraphers writing well wishes and greetings on scrolls in Carnavon Street, Penang. People can then hang it on the wall. But these artists are no longer around there,” says my 77-year old mother.

As for food, “Nian gao” or sweet rice cake is a huge favourite during Chinese New Year. This delicacy symbolizes annual progress and prosperity. I remember my grandmother used to tell me to keep quiet when she was making “nian gao”. This home-made practice is now replaced by mass-produced “nian gao”

The tossing of Yee Sang (魚生) is still popular. This dish is a symbol of good luck, prosperity, health and everything auspicious. Today, for the more adventurous, Yee Sang is added with local ingredients, including durians! Each ingredient of the dish carries a meaning.


    • Fish/Salmon (年年有余) – Abundance throughout the year
    • Pomelo/Lime (大吉大利) – Good luck and smooth sailing
    • Oil (一本万利) – To make 10,000 times of profit
    • White radish (风生水起) – Prosperity in business and promotion at work
    • Plum sauce (甜甜蜜蜜) – May life always be sweet
    • Fried Crisps (黄金满地) – Wealth and prosperity
    • Pepper (招财进宝) – To attract wealth
    • Carrots (鸿运当头) – To attract luck
    • Green radish (青春常驻) – Forever young


Whatever it is, Chinese New Year is still being celebrated with much merriment. Here, I wish everyone, “Kong Hei Fatt Choy!”

Words & Photos by Francis Yip

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