Happy Lunar New Year!

It’s that time of the year again, when families come together from far and wide to celebrate the Chinese Lunar New Year. When I was younger, it was a time of much excitement as we were given free reign to indulge in cookies and lollies and receive lucky red packets filled with money. The older I get, the more I cherish and appreciate this celebration as a time to reconnect with family and friends, some whom we only see once a year.

My parents were born and raised in the coastal city of Johor Bahru. As a child, I wistfully admired my friends who would join the ‘balik kampung’ (back to the village) exodus back to their hometowns. These days I feel grateful that we don’t have to brave the horrific traffic jams to reconnect with family members and friends alike. Both sets of my grandparents have since passed on, but the tradition of gathering together over a meal still stands today and soon my extended family of aunties, uncles and cousins alike will gather together to cheerfully welcome the start of the Chinese lunar calendar which falls on the 8th of February this year.

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The usual spring cleaning, cooking and baking precedes the Lunar New Year in most Chinese families. This year my mother and I decided to do something a little different in terms of baked goods. Instead of the usual pineapple tarts or cashew nut cookies, we decided to turn to the Western cook books and churned out a couple of lemon pound cakes, some banana muffins and a double batch of butter shortbread cookies for family and friends to munch on.

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Banana muffins

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Lemon pound cakes

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Shortbread cookies

Both my paternal grandparents and my maternal grandfather were born in China while my maternal grandmother was born in Singapore, which used to be part of Malaysia when it was still known as Malaya. My parents and I were born and raised in Malaysia. I would like to think of ourselves as a uniquely Chinese Malaysian, ethnically Chinese while our nationalities remain as Malaysian, a country where my grandparents decided to hedge their fortunes on when the communists invaded China.

Once a year we come together as one to celebrate our Chinese heritage with feasting and merriment. Traditions such as receiving lucky red packets filled with money from married couples to the exchanging of Mandarin oranges for good luck and tossing ‘yee sang’ (a dish with raw fish) for prosperity are still practised today. The colour red is prominently featured as the Chinese believe that it is the colour of ‘luck’.

As I write this, my mind is flooded with images of Lunar New Years past, as a child eagerly awaiting the arrival of my cousins, as an awkward teenager hoping my outfit befits the occasion, as a young adult travelling back to my hometown from college to celebrate the new year, as an adult celebrating it amongst friends, away from home for the very first time to this year where I am grateful to be able to usher in another Lunar New Year with family and friends.

May this blog post find you in the pink of health and may you have a prosperity filled year ahead!

Till next time!

Jacinta Kee