On the 15th day of Chinese Lunar year, Chinese community in Penang celebrated Chap Goh Meh.
According to legend, this fascinating festival tells a story of a lonely young man who during his first outing saw one of the most beautiful women his sights ever laid on. He was immediately enraptures by her stunning looks. Despite the excitement and exhilaration pounding in his heart, the young man quickly jotted down the number of her car. On the very next day, he made a search and enquiries on which this car belongs to. When he got to know the address, he quickly asks his mother to send a matchmaker to his dream girl’s home to arrange the marriage. In such haste and without investigation, the young man did not realize that the beautiful girl he had seen that day was actually not the daughter of the house but a visiting niece. And so on his wedding day, the poor groom found that instead of looking at the radiant smiling girl he had expected, he was to be married to her fat and rather plain cousin.
The story does have a rather happy ending though, as his wife was a wealthy woman!
Chap Goh Meh in Mandarin was called Yuan Xiao, but in the traditional Hokkien dialect of Penang, Chap Goh Meh means the 15th night of Chinese New Year. It is celebrated with prayers and offerings to mark the end of the Chinese New Year.
During this auspicious occasion, houses are brightly decorated with lights and lanterns are hung over the balcony or five-foot ways for the last day of the Chinese New Year. Prayers to the ancestors are offered. Despite a ban, firecrackers are lit as a ‘send-off’ to the New Year. The next day, people go back to work, businesses operate as usual and everyone is looking forward to the next Chinese New Year.
Various activities are planned to mark this very traditional occasion but the two mainstays are the Dondang Sayang and orange/tangerine throwing ceremony. In the morning, nyonya households will distribute pengat, a sweet and rich broth of tubers and bananas to relatives and friends.
As evening falls, the atmosphere relaxes as the gentle strains of Dondang Sayang fill the air. Dondang Sayang, which means “lullaby of love”, is interplay of sung poetry, usually revolving around the theme of love, between a man and a woman, trying to outwit each other in the name of affection whilst traditional music plays in the background.
In the past, Chap Goh Meh was one of the few occasions where eligible young ladies, transformed into scorching beauties, were allowed out from the confines of their homes. Eager gentlemen could only admire longingly at all the passing beauties, as the lovely ladies were always accompanied by an entourage of the fiercest looking aunts and amahs (servants)! These young maidens (and spinsters) would throw oranges into the sea as a gesture of hope to wed good husbands.
To keep this quaint tradition alive in modern times, orange throwing has transformed into a competition of sorts, where oranges thrown into the sea by girls (single or otherwise) would be scooped up by boys in boats. The boat with most oranges would be declared the winner.
So, if you’re coming to Penang during this occasion, don’t forget to drop by at the esplanade where the yearly orange throwing competition is being held. You can also participate in the competition if you like.
The Penang State Tourism will also be organizing a celebration that night featuring delicious Penang street food as well as games, performances, Baba Nyonya cultural show and riddles that comes with small gifts. Then, there will be grand fireworks display towards end of the night.
For more information, you may contact 04-650 5136 (office hours only).