Chap Goh Mei celebration in Penang
A fire dragon made of straw studded with incense sticks, is performed during Chap Goh Mei festival in Ipoh, Malaysia, Friday, Feb. 14, 2014. --AP Photo/Daniel Chan

KUALA LUMPUR: Chap Goh Mei, also known as the Lantern Festival (not to be confused with the Mid-Autumn Festival) is celebrated on the 15th day of the Chinese Lunar New Year.

The term ‘Chap Goh Mel’ which derives from the Hokkien dialect, also represents the final day of the Lunar New Year period and the day auspiciously coincides with the first full moon of the New Year.

On this day, houses are brightly decorated with lights and lanterns are hung over the balcony while prayers to the God of Prosperity are offered. The next day, people go back to work, businesses operate as usual and everyone is looking forward to the next Chinese New Year.

The festival’s origins are uncertain, as there are many legends surrounding it.

One legend states that a beautiful crane flew down to earth from heaven only to be slaughtered by villagers.

The crane was the Jade Emperor’s favourite crane and he was angered by its death. He vowed vengeance against the villagers. He planned to send a storm of fire down but his daughter, Zhi Nu, took pity on the villagers.

She warned the villagers about the impending doom and as a solution, a wise man suggested for every family to hang red lanterns around their houses, set up bonfires on the streets and set off firecrackers on the 14th, 15th and 16th lunar days.

On the 15th day, the troops descended from heaven with orders to incinerate the village, but saw it was already ‘ablaze’ and returned to report to the Jade Emperor.

Since then, people celebrated the anniversary of the 15th lunar day every year by carrying lanterns on the street and setting off firecrackers.

In traditional Chinese culture, the Lantern Festival is also known as the Yuan Xiao Festival.

In Southeast Asia however, it is known by many as the Chinese version of Valentines’ Day which this year coincided the Valentine’s Day itself leading to a double celebration.

Many Malaysians connect Chap Goh Mei with the traditional myth of young unmarried ladies throwing mandarin oranges inscribed with names and telephone numbers into rivers in search of a boyfriend or husband.

Oranges inscribed with names and telephone numbers

This tradition originated in Penang. In the past, Chap Goh Mei was one of the few occasions where eligible young ladies, transformed into scorching beauties, were allowed out from the confines of their homes.

Eager gentlemen could only admire longingly at all the passing beauties, as the lovely ladies were always accompanied by an entourage of aunts and servants. These young maidens would throw oranges into the sea as a gesture of hope to wed good husbands.

To keep this quaint tradition alive in modern times, orange throwing has transformed into a competition of sorts, where oranges thrown into the sea by girls would be scooped up by boys in boats. The boat with the most oranges would be declared the winner.

Oranges thrown into the sea