Celebrating Cny Should Be Shared Malaysian Culture
It is Chinese New Year once again and tis the season to be jolly. Well, for me anyway.
From this year onwards, I am making it a point to write something positive when it comes to racial and religious relations in Malaysia whenever it is the seasons of the two main festivals that I celebrate - Chinese New Year and Hari Raya Aidilfitri.
Those who read my column regularly would know that I celebrate both because I am part Malay, part Chinese and full Muslim.
When it comes to Chinese New Year, my family and I go full on with our celebrations. We wrap and distribute red packets, get together on the eve for reunion dinner, eat yee sang, play with firecrackers and play blackjack (okay, I’m just kidding about the last one… or am I?).
It’s the same for Hari Raya when we fast for Ramadan, wrap and distribute green packets, go for Aidilfitri prayers, eat kuih raya and wear baju Melayu (at least till noon before it gets too hot and I change into a t-shirt and shorts).
I’m lucky because my wife is like me too - part Malay and part Chinese. So we both come from mixed families and we are so very proud of it. I truly feel like we epitomise the true meaning of religious and racial harmony.
How I wish I could invite the whole of Malaysia to come in and experience what my family and I live through. We fight and squabble like any other family, but we never fight and squabble about race or religion. Quite a positive story in itself, but I want to look outside and not within.
I recently read in the news that a school in Sibu, Sarawak, annually celebrates Chinese New Year with vigour, except during the years when Covid-19 was at its height, even though it does not have a single Chinese student.
The school will set up decorations including red lanterns on their grounds and also at the next door An-Nur Mosque. Headmaster Hamdi Najdi said that it is important because there needs to be mutual understanding and tolerance to lead to greater unity.
If only this could be how all schools are, or the whole of Malaysia. The country would be a much better place as far as racial and religious acceptance is concerned.
Embrace the culture
Chinese New Year is such a part of Malaysian culture that we don’t have to necessarily be Chinese to celebrate it. It needs to be understood that the Lunar New Year is a cultural celebration and not really a religious one, similar to the New Year on Jan 1 or Malaysia Day on Sept 16.
Let’s just make it a point that all Malaysians celebrate all the major celebrations that are related to race and even religion. Hari Raya, Chinese New Year, Deepavali, Christmas, Keamatan, and anything that we know is part of our national culture.
While the religious elements must remain for those who follow the religion, we can remove them for others and just make it a celebration of culture. All this can begin in schools.
The second story I read in the news was about how our Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi visits his Chinese foster family every Chinese New Year and eats yee sang with them.
DPM Ahmad Zahid Hamidi (centre) celebrating Chinese New Year with his friends in his Bagan Datuk constituencyHe never fails to remind Malaysians how he was raised by his foster parents and foster siblings during his primary school years and that they treat him like family and vice versa.
Zahid could be using it as political mileage, but I’ll take a positive political spiel over a negative and racist one any day.
A matter of rich history
So how about we take the initiative of wanting to list Chinese new villages as Unesco heritage sites as a positive one instead of how some Malay political groups are trying to politicise the issue and accuse the Chinese community of wanting to threaten bumiputera rights?
Malacca and George Town are already Unesco sites and these two cities consist of history that is centuries deep involving Portuguese, Dutch, British, Chinese and Malay culture and we accept it.
Streets of MalaccaSo we should accept that the history of the Chinese new villages aka kampung baru Cina is a strong part of Malaysia as a nation, just as how Chinese New Year, Hari Raya Aidilfitri, Deepavali and Keamatan are so deep in our country’s culture.
We need to see it as our shared history and culture instead of that of only a specific community within Malaysia. It means that we have a deep, layered and multi-faceted history and culture, and we need to be proud of that.
All I’m saying is something that we all have been saying for decades and generations, which is that we need to be tolerant, understanding and accepting of all the different racial, cultural and religious communities that exist here.
Whatever we see as being obvious and familiar is because it is obvious and familiar. So how can we deny that it is already ingrained in us as our country’s culture?
Malaysia is what is. Let’s just embrace and acknowledge it. Kong Hei Fatt Choy everyone! - Mkini
ZAN AZLEE is a writer, documentary filmmaker, journalist and academic. Visit fatbidin.com to view his work.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of MMKtT.
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