Cover Photo: MLADEN ANTONOV / AFP

As the Chinese New Year festivities come to an end, let's take a look at this equally-as-celebrated festival

Today, the Chinese will observe Chap Goh Mei (or Chap Goh Meh), a festival that’s celebrated just as heartily as Chinese New Year. While this year’s event will be a little subdued, much like Chinese New Year celebrations, owing to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the Chinese community is still enthusiastic about upholding its age-old traditions with much joy and festivity.

Let's take a look at the origins of Chap Goh Mei and the different ways it's celebrated.

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What it is

Chap Goh Mei literally means the 15th night of Chinese New Year in Hokkien, a dialect originating from Southeastern China. However, it’s not only celebrated by the Hokkiens.

In some parts of the world, such as China, Chap Goh Mei is also recognised as Yuan Xiao Jie (Lantern Festival). In China and other Asian countries that observe this festival, the day signifies the end of the 15-day Chinese New Year celebrations.

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Its origins

Legend has it that the day revolves around the Jade Emperor, the central figure of Chinese folk religion. After his favourite pet crane was killed by a few villagers, the Emperor had planned to destroy the village on the 15th day of the lunar year. Upon hearing this, one of his favourite daughters secretly descended to the mortal world to warn the villagers about the impending disaster. 

To escape his wrath, the villagers hung red lanterns and set off firecrackers to make it look like their homes were already on fire so the Emperor wouldn’t raze the village to the ground. Satisfied, the Emperor left the village untouched and from then on, people celebrated the 15th day of the lunar year with lanterns and firecrackers.

Read more: Chinese New Year 2021: The Stories Behind These 5 Traditions

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A modern twist

While major activities for people in China include eating tangyuan (glutinous rice balls) over a grand meal, solving riddles written on beautiful lanterns, and visiting temples to pray for their family for the coming year, Chap Goh Mei in Malaysia and Singapore is celebrated with a modern twist.

Not only is Chap Goh Mei the last day that families can toss yee sang together, a symbol of all things auspicious, it’s also often considered the Chinese version of Valentine’s Day. On this night, young unmarried ladies throw Mandarin oranges marked with their names and telephone numbers into lakes and rivers in hopes of finding love, and optimistic men will be tasked to scoop them up and make contact. Think of it as the Tinder of yesteryear.

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