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What to do for Chinese New Year in Penang?

Drums, lanterns, red envelopes, huge incense, lion and dragon dances – Penang truly knows how to celebrate CNY! Almost every day is a festive day. It’s very hard to keep track of the numerous events. I was a little overwhelmed to find the different festivals and learn about their tradition. So, I made it easier for you to get an overview of the Chinese New Year events in Penang!

2020 is the year of the rat. When we celebrated CNY in Penang in 2017, it was the year of the rooster.

2 lions before the lion dance at Chinese New Year in Penang
The lion dance is a popular performance for Chinese New Year

The Chinese New Year is all about traditions. So, I cannot explain the festive season without saying anything about the traditions!

It is the biggest holiday Chinese people celebrate worldwide throughout the year. They believe that you have to start the new lunar year properly in order to have a lucky year. And I am all in for this! Nothing beats a great fresh start.

This is why the Chinese New Year isn’t only one night like on Jan 1st. It’s actually 7 official holidays. However, the traditional holiday period is actually 23 days – yes, almost one entire month! Within these days people will perform many rituals and traditional practices.

As I don’t want to go into detail within this article – check out this website or that website for further info.

The official holiday period

The 7 holidays start with the day before Lunar New Year, which is the last day of the lunar cycle (Jan 24, 2020).

New Year’s Eve is mostly a quiet day in Penang as families are at home for a reunion dinner. Traditionally, people would decorate their houses on this day, but some are already doing it before. At midnight people would come outside and light up firecrackers to welcome new year. Traditionally it is one firecracker string, followed by 3 bigger firecrackers. The louder the crackers sound, the more luck the new year will bring.

So in 2020, Lunar New Year falls on Jan 25. Although it’s still winter, CNY is also called Spring Festival.

Day 6 (Jan 30, 2020) of the new year will be the last day of the holiday season. Most people would start working the next day.

The traditional holiday period

The traditional holiday season already starts weeks before Chinese New Year. It kicks off with Little Year on Jan 17th, 2020.

Day 15 is the end of the lunar calendar and it is celebrated with the Lantern Festival.

Lanterns in yellow, orange and red are everywhere at Chinese New Year in Penang

Chinese New Year events in Penang

Chinese New Year in Penang is an amazing time for a visit because there are many different festivals in a short period of time. In addition, Malaysia is very diverse in its cultures. Hence, it can happen that different cultural events fall in this festive season. In 2017, for example, the Indian Thaipusam festival was within the CNY celebration, which happens in 2020 again (Feb 7-9).

Jan 19 – Feb 8: Kek Lok Si Display of Lights…

… is one of my favorite attractions. The Chinese-Buddhist temple is a spectacular sight around the Chinese New Year in Penang.

It is displaying more than 10,000 lights. It’s the best time to visit the 125-year-old temple! You can see it from far away and it is a stunning sight – it feels a little bit Christmas-y with all the lights.

The temple in lights at Chinese New Year in Penang
Simple lights can make beautiful things even more beautiful

Jan 24: Chinese New Year’s Eve…

… is fairly quiet because it’s held at home with the family. It’s a reunion for most families because often family members live far away from each other. At midnight, people will light up thousands of firecrackers to welcome the new year. They will partially block traffic on roads as they use firecracker strings. The Lunar New Year is on Jan 25 in 2020, which will start the year of the rat.

You will also notice that people give each other gifts, such as red envelopes. The color Red stands for luck and is the main color of the Chinese New Year.

Snake Temple Celebration…

… is a street celebration around the Snake Temple, where the traditional “Fire Watching” ceremony takes place to predict Penang’s economy. There are also dances, singers and food carts for your entertainment and well-being.

If you haven’t been to the Snake Temple yet, you should take this opportunity. As the name states already – there are real snakes.

Fan dance made by women at the Chinese New Year street celebration

Feb 2nd: Penang CNY Celebration Street Party (Miaohui)

… is held every year. Penang celebrates the Chinese New Year with a huge street party in the heritage district. It is somewhere within the first week – this year it is on Feb 2nd, 2020.

I can highly recommend this festival, because it shows a lot of different aspects of the Chinese culture in Penang: Traditional prayers, Dragon & Lion Dances, CNY traditions for bringing good luck in the new year, martial arts performances, lots of food and dances, etc.

It was one of my favorite nights because I loved the little stages and the different ways to entertain people. Definitely check it out if you have a chance!!

Click the button below to load the video from YouTube.

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Feb 1st: Pai Thee Kong Celebration

On the 9th day of the Chinese New Year, the Jade Emperor God’s birthday is celebrated. This time, it is on Feb 1st, 2020 and held at the Chew Jetty. It is an important celebration because it is believed that the Jade emperor protected the Hokkien ancestors from being killed.

Feb 1-2: Penang Hot Air Balloon Fiesta

In order to add to the cozy Chinese New Year lanterns, watch them a few sizes larger at the Air Balloon Fiesta. It is a big event with plenty of air balloon designs that attract national and international artists. Workshops and activities are happening on Feb 1st and 2nd, 2020.

Feb 8: Chap Goh Meh Celebration & Lantern Festival

Chap Goh Meh means nothing more than the “15th day”. This event is on the last day of the Chinese New Year celebration (Feb 8, 2020).

Nonetheless, there is something very special about this celebration. Under the full moon of the sky, women of marrying age who have not found their partner yet, throw oranges into the ocean. It is supposed to bring luck in finding your soulmate. Chap Goh Meh is also known as Chinese Valentine’s Day.

The night will be a big celebration in Penang with big fireworks and lanterns as it is also known as the lantern festival.

Orange lion head from a costume at Chinese New Year Celebration in Penang

Best websites to find events for Chinese New Year in Penang

My favorite site: MyPenang – Very accurate, helpful – easy list of events, short description and links to events (if provided).

Looking for a place to stay in Penang for Chinese New Year?

If you want to be relatively close to the events, I’d recommend you to stay in George Town, because most of them happen there. Everywhere in or near Chinatown would be the perfect area. It also offers a lot of food options, street art, and sites within walking distance.

Book your accommodation here!

[This article was originally published in 2017 and has been updated every year.]

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Curious who writes here?

Curious who writes here?

Adventurer, digital nomad, and freedom seeker - that's me, Nate the Nomad!
In October 2016, I packed my bags in Berlin and been roaming the world with my husband ever since.
We are slow travelers, who enjoy the freedom of the location-independent life! We love to go on little adventures and to learn about new cultures everywhere we go.

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