Article: Chingay Festival in Johor Bahru in Malaysia
Johor Bahru Chingay Festival – What happens Where? When? and Why?
One important Malaysian festival, we wanted to see in Johor Bahru, was the Chingay Festival. It is an annual Chinese New Year’s festival whereby dazzling and colorful parades are being held in the city. As one local put it to us, the devotees take the 5 deities from JB Old Temple on their annual “tour” so that the gods can have a good time and bless the city with peace, prosperity and harmony.
JB Chingay is a special Chinese New Year’s Celebration as the festivities in JB don’t simply end with the 15th day of the first lunar month but rather continue for another week.
It is the oldest procession in Malaysia running over a century and originated as a celebration of the harvesting season and not the birthday of the deities as other places do.
Similar parades are also being held in Singapore. What confused us the most about it were the dates and times of when it would be held and we nearly did not get to see it. Even the official Malaysian tourist brochures got this wrong.
Fortunately it just took place at the end of our stay.
Paul and I really stood out during the festival and even got interviewed by three local journalists during the Chingay Parade. It felt like we were some kind of celebrities.
When are the Chingay Parades held in Johor Bahru?
The main Chingay processions fall on the 20th to 22nd days of the first month of every lunar calendar. This would be the same for the following years, i.e. 2018, 2019 etc. You just have to check the day of the Chinese New New Year.
In 2017, the Chingay Festival in JB is held as follows:
18th day of Lunar Month = 14th of February 2017: Lighting Ceremony
19th day of Lunar Month = 15th of February 2017: Street Cleansing
20th day of Lunar Month = 16th of February 2017: Prelude Day Parade starts 11am at JB Old Temple
21st day of Lunar Month = 17th of February 2017: Extravaganza (Night Parade) starts 7pm at Xing Gong and arrives at around 9pm/10pm at the main grand stand along Jalan Wong Ah Fook and thereafter heads back to Xing Gong.
22nd day of Lunar Month = 18th of February 2017: Final Day Parade (The Finale) starts 11 am at Xing Gong and the devotees arrive at JB Old Temple at around noon.
What happens at Chingay in Johor Bahru?
Lighting ceremony at Xing Gong temporary shrine
Generally Johor Old Temple would be the main centre of the celebrations but it is simply not big enough to accommodate all the devotees and worshippers and therefore a temporary shrine, called Xing Gong, is set up outside of town at Jalan Ulu Ayer Molek.
- Cleansing Ceremony
Two days prior to the actual festival, the streets are being cleansed by a symbolic “Street Washing” ceremony whereby 100 devotees dressed in red, will march along the 10km route and sprinkle it with holy water.
After the cleansing, strong young men will enter JB Old Temple to prepare the deities for their annual journey via sedan chairs (heavy structure they carry the gods in).
- Prelude Parade
One day before the main night Chingay Parade, the worshippers (with designated t-shirts from 5 Chinese clans) take the deities from JB Old Temple to Xing Gong.
It starts at 11 am. I joined the parade when they had reached the Doubletree Hotel and from there the prelude parade goes a bit out of town to the Xing Gong. After the Doubletree Hotel, we walked along Jalan Tun Abdul Razak and thereafter turned left into the road Jalan Ulu Air Molek.
You simply have to walk up that road and you will soon see the Xing Gong temple. It is a wonderful thing to see. You can also see the devotees rocking the sedan chairs wildly every now and then. Click here to see our short video of the parade.
This is meant to keep their mood up. The only god that is not being rocked is Yuan Tian Shang Di, which is the God of the Northern Heaven and principal deity at the JB Old Temple. His sedan will always be held in the highest regard.
The deities are accompanied by many locals, music and colourful dragon and lion dancers.
Every god is welcomed at the Xing Gong with lots of celebrations and then they stay there for the night so that the devotees and worshippers can see them.
There are also some performances and other celebrations held at Xing Gong.
Important! Have sunscreen with you during the day parade and keep hydrated. There were also drink sellers along the route and quite a few drink and food sellers near Xing Gong.
- The Extravaganza (Night Parade)
The next day, being the 21st day of the Chinese Lunar New Year, the Extravaganza is being held in the evening. Accompanied by floats, dragon/lion dancers and music, the devotees continue to carry their deities on their annual tour of the city via a 10km long route.
Click here to see our video of the Chingay Night Parade.
It starts at Xing Gong and goes through the main streets of the city and back to Xing Gong. In between they stop at pivotal points of which the Grand Stand along the street Jalan Wong Ah Fook (usually they arrive around 9, 10pm) is the highlight of the night. Members of the Royal Family and other VIP’s are set up on a stage and greet the deities, floats and worshippers. Almost every time they stop at the main points, gods are being rocked and the lion and dragon dancers usually do a dance performance.
Overall the entire journey of the procession takes 7 hours to complete. You really have to be fit if you want to follow it all the way along and you should have water with you. In the evening we simply went near the Main Grand Stand which is what most locals do and waited for them to arrive. Thereafter we followed it back until the Doubletree Hotel. It was really nice to see them arriving at the Grand Stand. Tip: Be there a bit earlier to get a good spot. We went to a spot along Jalan Wong Ah Fook where they would arrive first before the main Grand Stand – near T Hotel. There was also a railing which was good to have as a separation from the crowds.
- The Finale
The next day, at 11am, the devotees collect the deities once again at Xing Gong and take them back via a parade to JB Old Temple. They were there around noon.
Final note: You have parades in all the cultures around the world and for us, JB Chingay was very different to the parades we know, i.e. the famous Latin carnival parades or folk music parades in Europe. Whilst it was great seeing the floats and dragons all lit up during the night parade, my highlight was the Prelude Parade as it wasn’t too crowded and you can observe a bit more of the culture. Chingay was a joyful experience, the people were very nice and we can highly recommend anyone to see it.