What is Chap Goh Mei and why is it celebrated?

·3-min read
A family enjoying making tangyuan 湯圓. (PHOTO: Getty Images)
A family enjoying making tangyuan 湯圓. (PHOTO: Getty Images)

Chap Goh Mei, which is the Hokkien term for the 15th night of the lunar new year, is also known as Yuan Xiao Jie, or Lantern Festival. This marks the final day of traditional Chinese New Year celebrations, and new year decorations are usually taken down on this day, replacing with red lanterns to celebrate the first full moon of the year.

Yahoo Lifestyle SEA looks into Chap Goh Mei’s origins, what it stands for, and how to celebrate the festival.

1. Origins of Chap Goh Mei

There are many beliefs on how Chap Goh Mei came about.

One of the more popular folklore revolves around the Jade Emperor, the first god in the Chinese religion. After his favourite pet crane landed on Earth and was killed by villagers, the Jade Emperor planned a storm of fire upon the village on the 15th day of the lunar year.

To escape his wrath, a wise man suggested the villagers to hang red lanterns and set off firecrackers to make it look like their homes were already ablaze. Satisfied, the Emperor left the village untouched, and after that, people celebrated the 15th day of the lunar year with lanterns on the streets and setting off firecrackers.

2. Chinese Valentines’ Day

Think of it as Tinder without the Internet.

In the ancient days, unmarried ladies will write their name and contact details on mandarin oranges and toss them into the river on Chap Goh Mei. This is done in the belief that a man would scoop them up and make contact with them, allowing these single ladies to marry good husbands.

3. Lantern riddles

One of the highlights of the Lantern Festival is guessing lantern riddles. In ancient days, lantern owners write riddles on notes pasted on the vivid lanterns. People will crowd around these lanterns to guess the riddles, and they can pull the note off the lantern if they think they have the right answer.

They will check their answers with the lantern owner, and if the answer is right, a small gift is usually given. The lantern riddles activity was popularised during the Song Dynasty (960–1279).

Chap Goh Mei is celebrated on the 15th night of Chinese New Year which symbolises the end of Chinese New Year celebration, also known as Oriental's Valentine Day. (PHOTO: Zahim Mohd/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Chap Goh Mei is celebrated on the 15th night of Chinese New Year which symbolises the end of Chinese New Year celebration, also known as Oriental's Valentine Day. (PHOTO: Zahim Mohd/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

4. Eating Tangyuan

Eating tangyuan, a glutinous rice ball filled with red bean, sesame, or peanut, is one of the most important customs of the Lantern Festival.

Tangyuan is usually eaten at home or with family members. The Chinese believe that the round shape of Tangyuan symbolises family togetherness and brings about family harmony, happiness and good luck in the new year.

5. Reunion dinner

Instead of meeting up with extended family for reunion dinner like on the eve of the lunar new year, families living under one roof will traditionally have dinner together on Chap Goh Mei. This is believed to help strengthen family ties in the new year and usher in harmony in the household.

6. Prayers at temples

To mark the end of the lunar new year celebrations, families also head to the temples to pray for a smooth year ahead.

Those of the Taoism religion will pray to Tian Guan, the Ruler of Heaven, and the god believed to be responsible for good fortune. It is believed that his birthday falls on the 15th day of the first lunar month.