Culture and Events Living Together

Kongsi Raya

Do you know that some major festivals in Malaysia may occur at around the same period? This phenomenon is most commonly referred to as “Kongsi Raya”, referring to the fact that Chinese New Year and Hari Raya Aidilfitri may occur close to one another. The phrase “Kongsi Raya” was first coined in 1996, during an advertising campaign for a local shopping mall, and combines a common Chinese New Year greeting, “Gong Xi Fa Cai”, with the word “Raya” from Hari Raya Aidilfitri.

Why does this happen?

The days on which both festivals happen depend on the lunar calendar – a calendar that follows the monthly cycles of the moon’s phases. Chinese New Year dates depend on the Chinese lunar calendar, which includes leap years. In the Chinese calendar, leap years are around 30 days longer compared to a common year, which has around 353-355 days in a year. Due to the presence of the leap year, Chinese New Year usually begins at around the same period of time – from January to February on the Gregorian calendar.

The Islamic lunar calendar has 354 to 355 days in a year, roughly the same as the Chinese calendar. However, it does not have leap years, causing the Hari Raya Aidilfitri dates to move back around 10 days year by year according to the Gregorian calendar. Therefore, these two festivals may occur close to each other for several years. It is estimated that such a phenomenon occurs once per 33 years, with each occurrence lasting for three consecutive years.

As of 2021, this phenomenon last occurred between 1996 and 1998; in fact, in 1996, Hari Raya Aidilfitri occurred just two days after Chinese New Year.

Similarly, Hari Raya may occur close to other major festivals such as Deepavali and Christmas.

How does “Kongsi Raya” look like?

Chinese New Year and Hari Raya Aidilfitri have some elements in common: both involve friends and relatives visiting each other, as well as giving out money in red/green envelopes to guests. During the double celebrations, both Muslims and Chinese did not just open their houses to their own friends and relatives; friends of different races visited each other as well. The phenomenon also gave rise to some creative fashion, as Mandarin collars on Baju Melayu and Baju Melayu collars on long-sleeve shirts became popular during Kongsi Raya.

The “Kongsi Raya” phenomenon is indeed a symbol of “unity among diversity” in Malaysia, and displays Malaysians’ willingness to respect others’ cultures and accept cultural differences, as well as their eagerness to promote and maintain unity among people of different cultural backgrounds.

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