The Chinese in Penang are mainly of Fukkienese dialect. We call ourselves "Hokkien lang" ie. 'Hokkien people" and speak a distinct variation of the Fukkien dialect - the Penang Hokkien that has absorbed many local Malay words but always pronounced them in our own way. For example, the Malay word for stone is 'batu', two syllables and each pronounced with a short sound but in Penang Hokkien, it becomes 'baatu", with the first syllable stressed longer than in the original word.
The 8th day of the Chinese New Year is a special day for all Fukkien people because that is when all the exciting preparations are done although the actual festival is on the 9th day. In Penang, the night of the 8th day is celebrated on a grand scale. A few days before that, every Hokkien family will be busy sourcing for sugar canes because it is a 'must have' item for prayers on that night. The canes which must be bought in pairs, are carefully selected for their size and straightness.
Offerings of special nyonya kuih, pink tortoise buns, fresh and dried fruits, pink sugar pagoda, roast pork are all part of the oferrings. Families that do well in business for the previous year and to ensure continued success will offer whole roast pigs.
A special raised altar will be erected, the higher the better. The sugar canes are tied to this altar.
Just before midnight everything will be ready. Prayers begin soon after 11 pm (due to Chinese time calculation). We used to let off long strings of fire crackers, the longer the better but it is now banned. Even then there is always the illegal bang, bang to be heard everywhere.
A huge heap of artistically folded joss papers are burnt at the end of the prayers. Often paper clothes for the Jade Emperor are added.
Don't be surprised if you are invited to join in the celebration!
The 15th day of the 4th Lunar month is always Wesak Day, a Buddhist celebration world wide. Wesak Day is the day of Triple Joy because Sakyamuni Buddha was born, attained enlightment and entered Nirvana on this day (in different years).
In Butterworth and on Penang island, the celebration is a mixture of Chinese and Siamese customs. You will see Buddhist and Taoist temples (normally there will be an image of Sakyamuni Buddha within) crowded with believers who come to pay their respects. There will be offerings of fruits, flowers, buns and other traditional Chinese cakes but all of vegetarian ingredients only.
Although majority of the Buddhists in Malaysia are Chinese and Siamese, on festive days, don't be surprised to see Indian Malaysians and workers from Myarmar at these temples too.
The temple commitee will usually provide blessed water for drinking and bathing (with flowers bobbing in it) and uncooked rice, packed in small plastic bags for devotees to take home. Sometimes there are also string bracelets that are blessed. All these are provided FREE.
You can also enjoy vegetarian meals for free too.