THE lanterns are coming out, stalls selling Mandarin oranges start lining the streets, and the colour red is everywhere. It’s when I start getting really excited because it is one of my favourite festivals of the year. It’s the Chinese New Year season.
Every year when the season starts, I make sure to celebrate it with vigour. The reason for this dates back to an experience I went through when I was seven years old in Malaysia and attending primary school for the first time.
As usual, Chinese New Year was in the first quarter of the year, around February or January, just like it is this year. It was a prolonged school holiday, about a week, as it is this year. And I was really excited about it, just as I am this year too.
After the holidays, I went back to school with the high of the festivities still lingering. I proudly told all my friends about all the red packets that I had received, along with the fun time I had playing with fire crackers. I wanted to share the joy I had experienced with them.
But lo and behold, instead of being excited and happy to hear my stories, they all got angry and started warning me. Apparently, I was not allowed to celebrate Chinese New Year and would go to hell if I received the traditional red packets filled with money.
Now, I’m a Muslim and I am of mixed parentage. There is a little bit of Malay in me and a little bit of Chinese in me. My family is multicultural and we celebrate both festivities. Of course, in Malaysia, I would just be considered Malay.
Being seven years old, a situation like that can be quite confusing. All my life, I had been celebrating Chinese New Year with my relatives. I had never been told that it was wrong. But here I am, getting harassed in school, a place where I am supposed to be getting an education.
I consider myself very lucky that I come from a fairly liberal and multicultural family. So eventually, I received the support that I needed to realise that the people who told me that it was wrong for a Muslim to celebrate Chinese New Year are just ridiculous.
Now that I am a 40-year-old adult with children of my own, I try to provide that same support for them too. This is because the type of ridiculous people I grew up with are still around, and some may even consider them to be more vocal and louder than before.
But those who are on the same page as me are also around, and they are trying to make themselves heard. That is why I will always celebrate Chinese New Year with vigour. I feel it is my responsibility to show to Malaysian society the true meaning of multiculturalism and respect.
** This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of Asian Correspondent