Sunday 21 February 2010 – “Cheh Peh” Eighth day of Chinese New Year. The biggest Chinese “Hokkien” celebration of Chinese New Year. It is the day of “Pai Ti Kong” – worship the Jade Emperor (Heaven God). The celebration is a very big thing in Penang, as Penang Chinese are predominantly Hokkien.
When I grew up in George Town, my family celebrated “Cheh Peh” with a big bang. Mum set up a huge red altar at the front of the house. On the altar (table), we had a baby suckling pig at the centre, surrounded by roast duck, a roast or steamed white chicken, fried fish, “Ang Kuih”, “Ang Ku”, fruits, vegetables and rice. A must have were two very tall sugar cane tied to the front legs of of the altar. And, a giant joss stick with elaborate dragon curled around the joss stick. A string of large red fire cracker hanging from an extended pole from the top floor window of our house. At the stroke of midnight, the fire crackers were lighted with deafening explosions all across town. That was the day I knew when I grew up.
Hokkien people offers sugar cane on this auspicious day of Jade Emperor’s birthday, which falls at the stroke of midnight on the Ninth day of Chinese New Year. The celebration starts on the Eighth day until midnight. History has it that during Ming Dynasty, Hokkien people in Fujian Province were wrongly persecuted by other ethnic Chinese people as a foreign enemy in a regional war. They were defeated and their villagers were burnt down. They had to run and hide in a field of sugar cane plantation. They prayed and prayed to Heaven God for a safe passage. The persecutors eventually gave up searching and left. The tradition of worshipping Jade Emperor for saving their lives by the other ethnic Chinese groups carry on from generations to generation. It is the largest and most significant festival for Hokkien people in the Chinese New Year calendar.
Almost all Hokkien households through out Penang will celebrate the night with food and offerings setup quite elaborately at the front of their houses. But, the most interesting and exciting festivity is held yearly at Chew Jetty. I was there tonight to experience the celebration for the first time. I was born and lived in Penang before immigrated to Australia in 1993. But, I have never been to Chew Jetty for the festival. I asked my sister to drop me at Chew Jetty this evening after dinner with my family. It was still early, about 8 pm. The crowd was starting to gather slowly – locals and tourists. By 9:30 pm, the crowd started to grow very quickly and had doubled. The street was closed to traffic. Food and offerings were placed at several long red trestle tables placed together at each end. Residents of Chew Jetty started placing their food and offerings at the tables. Almost a competition to see which one had the best food and offerings to worship the Jade Emperor. A spiritual man went into trance. Chanted and gave instructions to followers on what to do – to assemble the heaven shrine and blessing worshippers in the crowd. The crowd grew larger by the minutes. Unfortunately, I had to catch a bus back to the hotel at 10:30 pm and had to miss the dragon and lion dance troupe scheduled at 11:30 pm, and fireworks at 12 midnight. I must witness this event again on my next trip, and probably have to find someone that has a car to take me home. It was a very interesting and memorable experience for me.
The main temple in Chew Jetty – candles and incense burning.
The main altar in the temple with food and offerings.
The long red trestle tables being setup. Worshippers from Chew Jetty started bringing their elaborate decorated food and offerings from 9:30 pm. By 10:30 pm every single space on the trestle table was filled.
The main Heaven God’s temple shrine made up of 2 sections – earlier assembled and blessed by a spiritual leader in trance.
The spiritual leader in trance – instructing his disciples.
The elaborate giant joss sticks with dragons being lighted at the stroke of midnight and will continue to burn for a couple of days.