How Much Will Chinese New Year Traditions Cost You This Year?
With Chinese New Year songs of every kind piping out from every shop you pass by, it is impossible not to be excited about the upcoming festival, especially for the Chinese. Not veering from the norm, consumerism rises every year before and during Chinese New Year.
However, with the rising cost of living and the strengthening of the Chinese renminbi, Malaysian Chinese are struggling to maintain the air of merriment and traditions of the New Year.
According to a report by Malaysian Digest, prices of foodstuff and daily necessities have increased by an average of 20% this festive season while the price of imported foodstuffs could double that of last year.
Due to rising prices of goods, it is estimated that Malaysian Chinese families may have to fork out 20% more in expenses for the upcoming Chinese New Year. In general, festive food is expected to be 10% dearer while imported festive food will increase by 15% in price thanks to a stronger renminbi. Meanwhile, seafood, preserved meats, mushrooms and other indispensable items for reunion dinners will increase by 5%.
Looking at the rising cost of Chinese New Year traditions, how will you be celebrating this Lunar New Year?
1) Reunion dinner
No Chinese New Year reunion dinner is complete without a lavish meal – no horsing around it. Traditionally, families gather at their ancestor’s home to have a home-cooked meal together. It is more about family spending time together and not really about enjoying expensive meals.
However, today most families opt to go for an extravagant meal at swanky Chinese restaurants, as cooking a huge meal takes too much time and effort.
A lower-range Chinese New Year set menu for 10 people, which cost about RM500++ in 2013 will cost at least RM600++ this year.
2) Mandarin oranges
Mandarin orange is a must-have for the Lunar New Year. However, this year, be prepared to pay more for mandarin oranges. The price of lokam (mandarin oranges) from China will be dearer by 20% to 60% this year due to a shortage of supply.
“The crop was slightly smaller compared to last year due to the drought in the Fujian province from June to October last year,” said Yee Kam Ming, retail operations manager of Sunshine Wholesale Mart Sdn Bhd to The Star.
A 4kg box of extra large-sized lokam is now selling at RM16.88 compared to RM15.50 last year, while the 8kg large-sized ones cost RM28.88 compared to RM25.68.
3) Yee sang
Yee sang, or Spring Toss, is a Malaysian Chinese tradition to usher in the Lunar New Year as it is believed to symbolise good luck, prosperity, health and all things auspicious. Yee Sang comprises thin slices of pickled vegetables and other ingredients which are mixed together thoroughly before the dish is consumed.
A full portion of salmon yee sang from Chinese restaurants instead of supermarkets, used to cost around RM70 in 2013, but it will cost about RM88 now.
4) Ang pow
Though there may not be a written rule or market rate for ang pows, it does fluctuate in tandem with inflation. Some purists think that pegging a rate on ang pow go against the spirit of Chinese New Year as the gift of giving red packets should be from the heart.
Toh Seng Keat, a retiree, told The Star that the recent price hikes will mean less ang pow money for his seven grandchildren.
“We usually give our grandchildren amounts ranging from RM38 to RM168 based on their age. But this year, we simply can’t afford it – all our grandchildren will get smaller amounts of maybe RM88 or less.”
Although, the amount to give in your ang pow is entirely up to you, an RM2 ang pow may be frowned upon by youngsters. Increasing the amount you give in your ang pows every year just to save “face” may result in heavier financial burden.
Decorating and spring cleaning for the festive season are a given. Prior to the festival, Chinese families decorate their living rooms with vases of pretty blossoms, platters of oranges and tangerines and a candy tray with eight varieties of dried sweet fruit.
These decorations, mainly in red and gold, symbolise good fortune and joy. However, this year, families may have to cut down on decoration as reports have found decorative artificial flowers cost at least 20% more.
6) Lion dance
Lion dances are most often performed during important festivals, such as Chinese New Year to bring good luck to the house or premises visited.
If you are thinking of hiring a lion dance troupe to visit your family, be prepared to fork out at least RM480 for a short session, compared to RM380 last year, as told by Muhibbah lion dance troupe in Petaling Jaya.
For most Malaysian Chinese, the above traditions are not something new and have been observed since they were children. However, can we afford to continue these traditions?