The Thaiger visited the Jui Tui Shrine in Phuket Town this morning where the island’s huge Thai-Chinese community flock to commemorate Chinese New Year. So what’s the annual Chinese New Year, or Lunar New Year, all about?
Chinese New Year (Spring Festival)
The date of the Chinese New Year is determined by the lunar calendar and takes place in January or February each year. Legend has it that Chinese New Year originally started with a battle against the fabled beast, “Nian”, part bull, part lion. It’s said that Nian appeared in China on what was to become New Year’s Eve. Local residents discovered the beast was afraid of fireworks and the colour red, and thus the traditions associated with Chinese New Year were born.
Today in China, red lanterns are hung in the streets, while people dress up as dragons and lions. Special noodle dishes are eaten as a symbol of a long life and children are given little red envelopes containing money, in order to encourage good fortune for the coming year.
This year is the Year of the Ox. The ox is the second sign in the 12-year cycle of animals that makes up the Chinese zodiac. Each year is associated with one of five elements in addition to its sign.
Phuket’s Chinese New Year
Dr Kosol Tang-Uthai was the deputy mayor of Phuket City and past-president of the Thai Peranakan Association, a group dedicated to preserving and promoting the history of Phuket’s unique Chinese culture. Dr Kosol earned his doctorate from Mahidol University, and has been serving as president of the association since 2007.
This is a very important time of the year for many Phuket residents, and the island is very busy as Thai-Chinese people bustle around preparing their homes for Chinese New Year celebrations, or get ready to visit close relatives elsewhere.
Chinese thoroughly enjoy this time, as they work hard all year long. In the old days, they never took time off during the year, so the new year period was the only time during which they felt comfortable about taking a break. No one is permitted to work on new year’s day, which falls on February 12 this year.
Although this is a time for house cleaning and to visit relatives, food preparation is also an important part of this holiday. People take time and care to cook their most favorite dishes for themselves and as offerings to their ancestors.
It is our duty to inherit and preserve this culture for younger generations. If we fail to do so, the traditions will be lost in Phuket society – much like Chinese language has been. It is rare to come across a young Baba or Nyonya [male or female] Peranakan Chinese-Thai who can speak Chinese fluently these days.
Phuket is a place where many cultures, races and religions come together, such as Chinese, Malay and Muslim. The purpose of the Chinese New Year celebration is not just to preserve our cultural heritage, but to bring all people together to celebrate as one.
Though Peranakan Chinese make up the majority of the population in Phuket, you will see Muslim and Malay people setting up food stalls during the many Chinese New Year events that the island will host.
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