In general, Chap Goh Meh is the Hokkien pronunciation for 十五暝; the last day of the 15-days-long Chinese New Year celebration. The occasion is also known as the Lantern Festival or 元宵节 (Yuan Xiao Jie) in Chinese. It should not be confused with the Mid-Autumn Festival (The Moon Festival), which is also sometimes referred to as ‘Lantern Festival’ in Malaysia and Singapore.
For this festive occasion, it is marked by feasting and various festivities, with Tang Yuan (glutinous rice ball in sweet soup) as one of the main delicacies. Lighting lanterns, firecrackers and fireworks are also some of the popular activities during the celebration.
However, for Southeast Asian Chinese, this day is also known as the Chinese Valentine’s Day, where, traditionally, matchmaking will be held for single unmarried persons (usually girls) looking for potential suitors, and the popular ‘Mandarin Orange-Throwing’ custom will be held.
A Southeast Asian Custom
According to various sources, the custom took its roots in the Southeast Asian Chinese culture, starting from Penang. It is a custom for unmarried girls to find a potential suitor; as well as being the only time where the girls can be seen with their partners.
The custom is practiced during the night of Chap Goh Meh, usually near rivers or lakes. The girls will gather at the bridge, or lakeside, with mandarin oranges in hands, all written with their names. As for the boys, they will either be waiting in boats in the river or lake, or by the banks, ready to grab for the oranges that will be thrown into the waters. For married couples, some will light a candle boat and let it float into the river. It is said that the longer the boat floats, the longer the relationship will last.
While the custom now is not so much on looking for potential suitors or spouses, it is still celebrated as a fun-filled event for all, especially young people eager to meet new friends. For the girls, some even included their cell phone number or emails; thought it might be risky if the wrong person found it. All in all, it has become a get-together event for families and friends alike, where sometimes even DJs and hosts are invited to organize and host programs and various activities (e.g. guessing word puzzles, lantern-making) to spice up the event.
Chap Goh Meh is not the most ideal occasion, when one talk about romance and love, but, it is definitely the best occasion for gathering around, or rekindling passionate love for couples, and a chance to meet new friends, or perhaps, find the ‘Right’ person.
Happy Chinese New Year!