Celebrating Chinese New Year in Kuala Lumpur: History, Traditions, and Things to Do

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Red and Yellow Lion dance dragons

The Chinese New Year, otherwise known as the Spring Festival, is the biggest and most important holiday in Chinese culture. It’s celebrated every year on the first day of the lunar calendar, which for 2024 falls on the 10th of February. A Chinese New Year celebration lasts 15 to 16 days, spent on traditions, festivities, and food.

It marks the celebration of new beginnings, a reunion time with the family, and praying for abundance and prosperity for the new year.

Spending Chinese New Year in Kuala Lumpur brings a unique twist to the celebration because of Malaysia’s diverse culture. It’s one of those festivals you must experience for yourself and see how these celebrations allow different religions and cultures to unite and respect each other’s traditions.

Join us as we guide you through the most celebrated festival in Chinese communities worldwide. In this post, you’ll learn all about the history, significance, traditions, customs, and different ways to celebrate the Chinese New Year in Kuala Lumpur.

Lion-Dance-in-Celebration of Chinese New Year in Kuala Lumpur

The History and Significance of Chinese New Year

The history of the Chinese New Year dates back to 3,500 years. Although the exact date it began is unknown, some people believe it originated in the Shang Dynasty (1600–1046 BC).

The origin of Chinese New Year is interwoven with legends and folklore. One legend tells about a mythical beast called Nian (meaning ‘Year’ in Chinese) who terrorized villages and ate the crops, livestock, and even the townsfolk. This would happen every end of the year until one day, the villagers discovered that the beast was scared of loud noises and the color red.

So the people lit firecrackers and placed red decorations, such as red lanterns or red scrolls, in front of their doors and windows in an attempt to scare off Nian. This legend also explains why red and firecrackers/fireworks are widely used during Chinese New Year.

Celebrating the Chinese New Year carries thousands of years of cultural and historical significance. This tradition symbolizes renewal and fresh starts as it marks the end of the old year. Certain cultural traditions are followed to celebrate the festival, such as cleaning the house, using red decorations, sharing meals with families, providing offerings to honor ancestors, and more.

In essence, Chinese New Year is a multifaceted celebration that weaves together cultural threads of family, renewal, and tradition. It’s a testament to the rich history and enduring legacy of Chinese civilization, and its significance continues to resonate through generations and across geographical boundaries.

The date of the Chinese New Year is determined by the Lunar Calendar. And this so-called Lunar Calendar also has a rich history behind it, originating from the Shang Dynasty. Unlike the Gregorian calendar, which follows the Earth’s orbits around the sun, the Lunar Calendar follows the moon’s cycles.

This explains why the Chinese New Year has no fixed date and falls on different days each year, typically between late January and early February.

Ever heard of the 12 Chinese Zodiac Signs? The Chinese calendar rotates through 12 animal signs, assigning a new one each year. The 12 animals of the Chinese Zodiac in order are the Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig.

People believe each animal in the Chinese Zodiac possesses specific characteristics that people born in that year inherit. For example, people born in the Year of the Rat are said to be quick-witted, resourceful, and kind. In contrast, people born in the Year of the Dragon are confident, intelligent, and enthusiastic.

Keep reading to learn more about the 12 Zodiac Animals in the Chinese calendar.

Chinese zodiac signs at the Thean Hou Temple in Kuala Lumpur

Chinese Zodiac Signs

The story of how the 12 animals in the Chinese Zodiac came to be comes from a fascinating myth with different versions but has the same idea. According to the myth, the order of the animals was determined through a race held by the Jade Emperor. The race’s objective was to cross the river with fast rapids and make it to the finish line on the shore. Only 12 animals can win the race.

  1. Rat – The Rat is the first to finish the race after asking to ride with the Ox and quickly outsmarts the Ox by jumping on the finish line before the Ox can reach it. The Rat’s personality included being quick-witted, resourceful, versatile, thrifty, and smart. People born on the Year of the Rat are from 2032, 2020, 2008, 1996, 1984, 1972, 1960, 1948 and 1936.

  2. Ox – The Ox, also known as the good helper, is the second to finish the race, following the Rat. Its character is diligent, strong, honest, down-to-earth, persistent, and wealthy. People born in 2033, 2021, 2009, 1997, 1985, 1973, 1961, 1949, and 1937 have the Ox as their Chinese Zodiac Sign.

  3. Tiger – The Tiger is a prominent symbol in China, king of all beasts, symbolizing strength, braveness, and exorcising evils. People born in the Year of the Tiger can make great leaders with confidence, down-to-earth personalities, and work ethics. These people were born in 2034, 2022, 2010, 1998, 1986, 1974, 1962, 1950, and 1938.

  4. Rabbit – 2023 was the Year of the Rabbit. This zodiac sign symbolizes longevity, peace, and prosperity in Chinese culture. People born in 2035, 2023, 2011, 1999, 1987, 1975, 1963, 1951, 1939, and 1927 are vigilant, witty, quick-minded, and ingenious.

  5. Dragon – The new year welcomes the Year of the Wood Dragon. This includes 2012, 2000, 1988, 1976, 1964, and 1952. The Dragon is also a prominent figure in Chinese culture, symbolizing power, nobleness, honor, luck, and success. 

  6. Snake – For the years 2025, 2013, 2001, 1989, 1977, 1965, and 1953, governs the Snake. The Snake symbolizes intelligence, wisdom, and creativity. Snake people are believed to be calm observers and possess excellent intuition.

  7. Horse – People born on the Year of the Horse, which includes 2026, 2014, 2002, 1990, 1978, 1966, 1954, and 1942, also have great intuition, which is believed to be infallible. They’re also keen observers, enthusiastic, and sociable but are also independent thinkers. In Chinese culture, horses symbolize freedom, speed, boldness, and loyalty.

  8. Goat – People born in 2027, 2015, 2003, 1991, 1979, 1967, 1955, 1943, and 1931 are Goat people. They are known to be gentle, sympathetic, resilient, and creative.

  9. Monkey – The Years of the Monkey are 2028, 2016, 2004, 1992, 1980, 1968, and 1956. People born in this year have witty and intelligent personalities and can also be mischievous.

  10. Rooster – Rooster people are quite famous in crowds because of their outspoken and honest personalities. They’re also observant, hardworking, resourceful, courageous, talented, and confident. The Years of the Rooster include 2029, 2017, 2005, 1993, 1981, 1969, 1957, and 1945.

  11. Dog – 2030, 2018, 2006, 1994, 1982, 1970, and 1958 are Years of the Dog. Dog people are known to be loyal, honest, amiable, kind, cautious, and prudent, much like a dog.

  12. Pig – Pig symbolizes wealth, felicity, honesty, and practicality in Chinese culture. There are many piggy banks made after the image of a pig because people believe they can bring financial luck and prosperity. The Years of the Pig include 2031, 2019, 2007, 1995, 1983, 1971, 1959, and 1947.

2024: The Year of the Wood Dragon

2024 is the year of the dragon

What zodiac year is 2024?

2024 is the Year of the Wood Dragon and for Dragon people the year doesn’t come without challenges especially because they’re in opposition to Tai Sui. Tai Sui is a star and the God of Age said to bring bad luck to people matching their zodiac sign in the current year.

According to the horoscope, if you’re born in the Year of the Dragon you’ll have great opportunities this year in terms of your career and professional life. You’ll also have a good financial direction with the chances of improving your earnings.

Now moving on to things that are lucky for people born in the Year of the Dragon.

  • Lucky numbers: 1, 6, 7
  • Lucky colors: gold, silver, and grayish white; red and purple are also said to bring good luck and ward off trouble
  • Lucky flowers: bleeding-heart glory bower, dragon flowers

Fun facts about the Dragon in the Chinese Zodiac:

  1. Did you know that they’re only the mythical creature out of the 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac? Cool, right!

  2. While dragons are known for its fiery, hotheaded, and aggressive nature they also symbolize wisdom, longevity, and transformation.

  3. The Dragon, along with the Tiger, are considered to be the most powerful zodiac signs.

  4. Chinese mythology portrays dragons as guardians of the celestial realms, controlling weather patterns and bringing rain. Their scales are said to be made of clouds, and their movements affect the tides and winds. Some even believe they were responsible for creating the universe!

  5. Dragon imagery is widely used in Chinese ornaments, jewelry, and charms. Jade dragon pendants are believed to bring good luck, health, and prosperity, while dragon statues in homes ward off evil spirits and negative energy.

Traditional Celebrations and Customs

Join the prosperous Chinese New Year celebration by participating in these traditional customs and festivities!

Reunion Dinner

The heart of the Chinese New Year lies with families reuniting to feast on New Year’s Eve. Family members from other places travel miles to return home and be with their loved ones. This significant Chinese New Year’s Eve meal features dishes symbolizing prosperity, health, and family unity.

Red Envelopes (Hongbao)

Red envelopes, also known as Hongbao, are filled with money and given to children by elders to symbolize good luck and blessings for the new year.

House Cleaning and Red Decorations

To invite the good luck in, houses need to be cleaned first and be rid of the bad luck from the past year. Families typically do deep cleaning, from polishing windows and vacuuming/sweeping floors to getting rid of old items as preparation for a fresh start. It’s also important to remember to do the cleaning before the New Year comes and not during.

People also decorate their houses with red things, as red symbolizes prosperity, luck, and happiness. It could be red Chinese lanterns, paper cuttings, paper banners written with good wishes, red scrolls hung on doors, etc.

Lion and Dragon Dances

Watch majestic and colorful performances of the Lion and Dragon as they dance to rhythmic drumming believed to bring blessings and prosperity. Lions symbolize courage and strength, while dragons represent power and good luck.

A red and yellow dragon used for traditional lion dances for Chinese New Year in KL

Fireworks and Firecrackers

Drive away evil spirits and celebrate the New Year with a bang! Fireworks and firecrackers are used during the Chinese New Year to ward off evil spirits and welcome good fortune. Plus, they’re nice and pretty as they take over the sky.

Wearing New Clothes

Wearing new, often red, clothes symbolizes a new start and fresh hopes. Red inspires luck and positivity, so people wear red to welcome a prosperous New Year.

Paying Respect to Ancestors

Paying respects to ancestors is one of the important traditions of Chinese New Year. Families visit temples and shrines to offer food, prayers, and incense, seeking blessings for health, prosperity, and good fortune in the coming year.

The Lantern Festival

Fifteen days after the Chinese New Year is the Lantern Festival. This festive event is one of the greatest celebrations of the year as the streets glow with colorful lanterns, writing or guessing lantern riddles, and eating tangyuan.

Giving and Receiving Mandarin Oranges

Exchanging mandarin oranges with your loved ones is a way of wishing them happiness and prosperity, as mandarin oranges are symbols of wealth and good fortune.

Yusheng or Yee Sang (Prosperity Toss)

Prosperity Toss is a Chinese New Year tradition that involves tossing a raw fish and a bunch of vegetables like green radish, white radish, carrots, etc., together. It may also include a few condiments and sauces such as pepper, Chinese five-spice powder, peanut oil, sesame oil, etc., each ingredient symbolizing something good.

The Prosperity Toss invites prosperity and brings good luck, abundance, success, wealth, good fortune, and more for the new year.

Throwing Nian Gao (Sticky Rice Cake) Against the Ceiling

A unique tradition where families throw sticky rice cakes (Nian Gao) against the ceiling. The higher it sticks, the better the luck for the coming year. This practice is believed to please the Kitchen God, ensuring his positive report on the family’s behavior to the Jade Emperor.

Other Traditional and Lucky Chinese New Year Dishes to Welcome 2024

  • Dumplings – wealth
  • Spring rolls – wealth
  • Whole Chicken – luck, unity, a good beginning and end
  • Glutinous rice cake – higher income, success in work or studies
  • Longevity noodles – longevity and happiness
  • Lion’s head meatballs – family togetherness
  • Shrimp – happiness
  • Lettuce – wealth
  • Bak bok choy – wealth
  • Chinese broccoli – harmony
  • Fruits – fullness and wealth

Celebrating Chinese New Year in Kuala Lumpur

1. Visit Thean Hou Temple

Thean Hou Temple in Kuala Lumpur

Every Chinese New Year, the Thean Hou Temple in Kuala Lumpur comes alive as thousands of red lanterns are lit to celebrate the holiday. If you’re in the city with your family during this festive occasion, visiting the Thean Hou Temple is one of the best ways to celebrate, with free performances of lion and dragon dances to watch.

You’ll also see many worshippers flock to the temple as they make their offerings, light incense, and pray for blessings to come for the new year.

2. Attend the KLCC Park Fireworks Display

Enjoy a spectacular fireworks display that lights up the Kuala Lumpur skyline on the eve of Chinese New Year. KL has several spots that have firework display programs, including KLCC Park, Merdeka Square, and Chinatown.

3. Explore Petaling Street Night Market

Another fabulous way to celebrate and immerse yourself in the celebration of the Chinese New Year is at Petaling Street Night Market. There’s no better way to experience life in Chinatown than with lively firecrackers filling the streets, stores adorned with festive decorations, and various traditional goods and food offerings.

4. Watch a Lion Dance Performance

Don’t end the night without watching energetic lion dance performances at various locations around the city. These lion dance performances provide excellent entertainment for everyone with their bright, colored lion and dragon costumes and mesmerizing moves as they dance to the rhythm of Chinese drums and cymbals.

You’ll often catch these performances in temples like Thean Hou Temple, malls (1 Utama Shopping Centre), KLCC, and more.

Chinese New Year Lion Dance in Kuala Lumpur

Family Activities and Attractions

5. Enjoy Cultural Performances at Central Market

While the Chinese New Year is a fantastic opportunity to immerse yourself in Chinese culture, you can also take the time to explore other cultures in Malaysia by visiting the Central Market to watch cultural performances.

Discover traditional music and dance performances, showcasing Malaysian culture, and share this amazing experience with your family. Aside from entertainment, the Central Market is also a great place to get to know the Malaysian, Indian, and Chinese arts and crafts culture.

Central Market Kuala Lumpur

6. Visit an indoor playground

Don’t let the fun stop at loud fireworks displays and lion dances! Visit an indoor playground in Kuala Lumpur and channel your inner child with your kids to spend quality time with each other. Check out our list of the best indoor playgrounds in Kuala Lumpur, including Superpark Malaysia, KidZania Kuala Lumpur, and Jump Street Asia.

Jungle Gym indoor playground in Kuala Lumpur

7. Try Chinese New Year Themed Arts and Crafts

Participate in arts and crafts workshops at local community centers, such as the Kuala Lumpur Craft Complex, offering activities like lantern-making and calligraphy. Bring your kids along for fun and get creative together! Some malls in KL also offer Chinese New Year festive activities kids can enjoy, so keep your eye open for events like that.

Shopping and Street Fairs

8. Participate in Shopping Mall Festivities

Experience the festive atmosphere in Kuala Lumpur’s malls, which are decorated beautifully and host various cultural events. Malls like Suria KLCC and Pavilion Kuala Lumpur are must-visit destinations during Chinese New Year because of their fun festivities. Admire the vibrant and festive decorations, watch cultural performances, or shop for Chinese New Year-themed souvenirs!

Chinese New Year decoration in Suria KLCC

9. Dine out for Chinese New Year Specialties

Savor the festive culinary delights in restaurants and street food stalls, offering traditional dishes and special menus. This special holiday calls for a joyous feast with the family as you celebrate new beginnings and hope for an auspicious year. Several restaurants and hotels in KL offer a delightful Chinese New Year feast that will elevate your holiday experience.

10. Shop at the Imbi Market for New Year Goodies

Visit Imbi Market at ICC Pudu to get a true taste of local culture. Indulge in Chinese New Year snacks and delicacies and try everything from ginger wine and pork noodles to chicken buns and traditional popiah. Aside from Chinese cuisine, they also serve traditional Malaysian dishes like curry laksa, char kuay teow, and nasi lemak

Final Words about Chinese New Year in Kuala Lumpur

​​Celebrating Chinese New Year in Kuala Lumpur combines rich traditions and multicultural vibrancy. The city sparkles with red lanterns, vibrant lion dances, and dazzling fireworks. From iconic temples like Thean Hou to bustling night markets in Chinatown, each corner is infused with festive energy. Families can enjoy cultural performances at the Central Market or indulge in themed arts and crafts.

Shopping malls like Suria KLCC offer a festive ambiance while dining out unveils a culinary journey of traditional delights. Embrace the unity of diverse cultures, join the festivities at KLCC Park, and savor the unique charm of Petaling Street.

Whether witnessing dragon dances or exploring local markets, celebrating Chinese New Year in Kuala Lumpur promises a memorable and culturally enriching experience. Gong Xi Fa Cai!

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About Marlieke Kemp-Janssen:

Marlieke is the mom of a four-year-old girl and, together with daddy, they love living in and exploring Kuala Lumpur. As well as being the founder of Kuala Lumpur with Kids, Marlieke is a digital marketing consultant who has helped small businesses grow through her company Aureum Hospitality Advisers.

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