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Chinese New Year in Penang: A Lively Family Affair

Welcoming the Lunar New Year with a Bang in Penang, Malaysia


New Year Lanterns, taken by Hafiz Ismail

New Year Lanterns

Hafiz Ismail

Thanks to its sizable Chinese population, Chinese New Year in Penang is especially boisterous. On the eve of the New Year, Malaysian Chinese turn up in their ancestral homes to eat, gamble, and celebrate with their families.

(For more on what Penang's Chinese community like to eat during the holidays, look at this image gallery about Chinese New Year Food - Penang Peranakan Cuisine.)

Throughout the Chinese New Year season, Penang comes alive with innumerable parties and parades, but several events are particularly worth seeing if you're visiting the area.

My Astro CNY Countdown Gala

For the first time, Penang’s Chinese New Year celebrations will be streamed live for the world to see! From 8:30pm on January 22, Penang’s official kick-off of the year’s Chinese New Year festivities will take place in Penang City Hall and at the Esplanade. A LED dragon will light up the party, and a lion dance and Chingay show will keep things peppy. Local celebrities and dance troupes will entertain the crowds.

Chinese New Year Cultural and Heritage Celebration

Penang's government holds a Chinese New Year celebration on the streets of George Town, particularly down Chulia St., Armenian St., Soo Hong Lane, Ah Quee St., Acheen St., Cannon St., Kampung Kolam and Jalan Kapitan Keling.

The event is thrown partly to celebrate George Town's recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage city. (For more Heritage sites in the region, read this list: 10 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Southeast Asia.)

If you want to see traditional Chinese performing arts, this is the place to go. Lion dances and Chingay performances will compete for your attention, just as you're sampling the delicious food that comes with any Chinese New Year celebration!

Visitors can wander through the streets to explore the different cultural traditions of the city. For 2012, the Cultural and Heritage Celebration will be held on January 28, from 3pm to 12 midnight. For more information, contact the Clan Association Youth Committee, Penang at +6012 487 3278 or +6012 478 8302.

Kek Lok Si Temple Display of Lights

The Temple of Supreme Bliss on Air Itam, or Kek Lok Si Temple, is the site for some of the biggest festivities leading up to Chinese New Year. For 33 days beginning on January 19, more than 200,000 light bulbs and 10,000 lanterns will illuminate this century-old temple, shedding light on the Chinese New Year celebrations swirling around.

For more details, contact Kek Lok Si Temple at +604 899 8222 to 24. And for more on the temple, read our article: Introduction to Kek Lok Si Temple.

Chor Soo Kong Birthday

The Chinese deity Chor Soo Kong is the patron of Penang's Snake Temple. He is venerated as a guardian of wild snakes, and the temple has served as a refuge for countless snakes since its foundation in the 19th century. The incense smoke in the temple is believed to keep the snakes tame for visitors, but keep your distance just in case.

The sixth day of the Chinese New Year is held to be the deity's birthday, and visitors come from far and wide to pay their respects. On the eve of Chor Soo Kong's birthday, a "fire watching" ceremony is held to foretell how business will go in the year to come.

On 2012, Chor Soo Kong's birthday falls on January 28, and the festivities take place from 7am to 11pm. For more information, call the Hokkien Kongsi at +604-262 0202. And for more on the Snake Temple, read this article: Penang Snake Temple.

Hokkien New Year (Thni Kong Seh)

The Hokkien Chinese in Penang have their own grandiose Chinese New Year Bash on the Weld Quay's Chew Jetty.

The long tables groaning with food, and the sugarcane stalks that decorate every table and every household, commemorate the Hokkiens' escape from invading forces by their hiding in a field of sugarcane. Come midnight, prayers are offered to the Jade Emperor God, with sacrifices of food, liquor, and sugarcane stalks. For 2012, the festivities take place on January 30, 7pm to 12 midnight. For more information, contact the Chew Jetty Committee at +6012 412 6809.

Chap Goh Meh Celebration

Known as the Chinese equivalent of Valentine's Day, Chap Goh Meh is celebrated on the fifteenth night of the Chinese New Year. As the full moon shines, marriageable young ladies will go to the Penang Esplanade to throw oranges into the sea, all while wishing for a suitable husband. February 6, from 7pm onwards, Penang Esplanade.

For more information, contact the Penang Tourism Development and Culture Office at +604 650 5136 or +604 261 9012.

Accommodations & Transport in Penang for Chinese New Year

A number of hotels stand close to the history, culture, and shopping destinations within Georgetown, where a large number of Chinese New Year festivities will take place. Backpackers will appreciate the budget picks along Love Lane and Jalan Chulia, while business and luxury travelers will like the higher-end establishments like the Eastern & Oriental.

Taxis, trishaws, and a new bus system make getting around Georgetown and Penang easy. Most buses leave from the Weld Quay jetty or the KOMTAR complex; nearly all can be hailed in Chinatown. A free bus circulates around the city every 20 minutes.

Read about transportation options and getting around Penang. Information specific to the old quarter can be found in this article: Getting Around Georgetown, Penang - Taxis and Buses in Georgetown, Penang.

Penang Tourism Hotline

For more information, you can reach the Penang State Tourism Development & Culture Office’s Tourism Hotline at +6016 411 0000. In Penang, their office is located at Level 53, Komtar. Visit the Penang Tourism website here: www.visitpenang.gov.my, or reach them via email at info@visitpenang.gov.my.

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