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Chinese New Year in Penang


This year (2009) I was in Penang during the Chinese New Year celebrations. I had just returned from a short cycling journey in Thailand when I came to Penang.

Sun Yat sen's house in Georgetown PenangChinese New Year or Spring Festival is the most important of the traditional Chinese festivals and in many countries including Malaysia, a National Holiday. The mainland Chinese and Taiwanese also call it Lunar New Year. The festival traditionally begins on the first day of the first month in the Chinese calendar and ends on the 15th; this day is called Lantern Festival.

This year the authorities of Penang had organized a series of events over the 15 days period of the Chinese New Year. Most of the events were organized in the old Armenian Quarter, the heart of Georgetown and part of UNESCO world heritage.

As 2009 is the Year of the Ox, much of the festivities had an "ox" character. Actually, the Year of the Ox (following the Year of the Rat) starts at February 7, 1997 until January 26, 2009.

Chinese New Year is a typical family festival. Children will visit parents and older relatives. Traditionally people will wear new clothes and red is often used in decorations. Red lanterns are hanging in front of the doors of peoples houses. And red envelopes with some money are given by married and elders. And some some private houses and shops are visited by lion dancers to free the house from evil spirits.

In Penang a festival was going on over the period of the 15 day of Chinese New Year ending with a spectacular show at Chap Go Meh.

The festival had many performances in and around the many temples in Georgetown. I started my walks at the Penang Heritage Center, located next to the Penang Islamic Museum which for the occasion was free (and worth a visit). Opposite of the museum old fashioned children games were played.

Lion dancers
Lion dancers

The famous Famous Sun Yat Sen has lived and worked in Penang. There were special excursions in the house which is located a few doors further from the Penang Islamic Museum. Walking further I came across the preparations for a play later the day about a typical traditional Hokkien Opera about the marriage celebrations of the Hokkiens. Later in the day we saw a part of it, which was all in Hokkien language.

The first lion dance of the day was performed by children in front of the Yap Temple. It was a colourful start of the day. But soon I found out there was far too much to many activities to see them all. So we followed only some of the activities including a martial arts demonstration in front of the Khoo Kongsi temple, we followed a lion dance inside totally renovated Han Jiang Ancestral Temple. We had a brief look at the concert in the center of the Armenian Quarter before we went to see Chinese Opera and a demonstration of traditional Chinese drumming

Han Jiang Ancestral Temple
Han Jiang Ancestral Temple

Due to other activities I could only visit one day, I knew I had seen the most interesting day. And it certainly made me want to come back the next year.

Not enough photos? Here is a more extended selection of photos during Chinese New Year in Penang

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More photos Chinese New Year in Penang

We had plenty of photos of the Chinese New Year celebrations in Penang, here's a selection:

More photos of CNY in Penang