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Meaning of “Pai Teen Kung” or Jade Emperor’s Birthday (Eighth Day of Chinese New Year)

Meaning of “Pai Teen Kung” or Jade Emperor’s Birthday (Eighth Day of Chinese New Year)
Happy Pai Teen Kung to Hokkiens.
No, I’m Hakka and my Mum’s mum was Penang Hokkien Nyonya.
I had fond memories of waiting way pass midnight to carve out pieces of a big full roast pig. Now hardly this Hokkien culture is encouraged to continue to the next generations.
On the 8th day of the first month of Lunar calendar, it would be the special celebration known to Hokkien people as the “Phai Thien Kong” which literally means “praying the Heaven God”. This day is especially important to Hokkiens because they believe it is the birthday of the Jade Emperor (Thien Kong) who protected the ancestors of Hokkien people from ruthless army in ancient China.

During the massacre, all of the Hokkien people hid in a sugarcane plantation on the 8th – 9th days of Lunar New Year, coinciding with the Thien Kong or Jade Emperor’s birthday. This is why the Hokkien people offer thanksgiving prayers to him on this day. Although these prayers are traditionally performed only by Hokkiens but more and more non-Hokkien people have begun to join in to pray for a good year ahead.

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Sugarcane is symbolic of the Hokkiens hiding in a sugarcane plantation from massacre.

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Hokkien Leen Ko (Chinese New Year sticky cake, left) and Mee Koo (red buns)

In Lunar calendar, the day starts at 11pm. And therefore all the Hokkiens start their prayers at 11pm on the 8th day of Chinese New Year but preparations start well in advance. On this night, the Hokkiens set up a table (draped in a red tablecloth) full of food which are to serve to the Jade Emperor. Some of the most popular items they must have are sweet cakes (thni kueh), red tortoise buns (ang koo), red-colored buns (mee koo), prosperity cakes (huat kueh) and bright pink miniature pagodas.

The Hokkiens made piles of kim cua (folded pieces of gold paper), these papers are hung from the sugarcanes before being burnt as a thanksgiving offering to the Thien Kong. After these gold papers are set ablaze, the family members then took the stalks of sugarcane from the altars (a pair of sugarcanes are usually used) and threw them into the flames. There will be fireworks and firecrackers that mark the beginning of the ninth day as well as the survival of the Hokkien people.

[source: Susan Wong]

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