MORE than a billion in China and millions around the world celebrate the Chinese New Year today, ushering in the Year of the Metal Rat with prayers and feasts.
It is the most important holiday of the Chinese calendar, which marks the beginning of the new lunar year.
Also known as the Spring Festival, it’s considered a time to honour deities and ancestors, and to be with family.
The event always sparks a rush of travel, which the New York Times has dubbed ‘the world’s largest annual human migration’.
Understandably, fears of a viral pandemic have cast a pall on celebrations; China has locked down 10 cities hit by a new coronavirus outbreak that has, to date, killed 26 people and infected some 830 others.
For Malaysians, Chinese New Year is an inclusive affair, to be celebrated in true ‘muhibbah’ spirit - a cultural festival that is as embracing of others as Hari Raya Aidilfitri, Deepavali and Christmas.
Given that a quarter of the population is of Chinese descent, Malaysians from all walks of life and religions joyfully partake of the festive occasion, just as they do during other celebrations.
Such cultural and religious appreciation, which has strengthened the bonds of friendship and enhanced interracial and inter-religious harmony, is a longstanding Malaysian tradition.
We are one of the few countries where people are integrated into one cohesive group in a colourful weave that has been made stronger because of our different backgrounds.
At 56, Malaysia stands tall and proud with more than 15 different races, some 100 languages and at least seven different faiths.
This rich tapestry is Malaysia. We have been celebrating this diversity for so long, learning to respect one another, understanding a culture and revelling in it.
A healthy admiration of the breadth and depth of each culture. A sign of Malaysia’s maturity as a sovereign state.
Economically, Malaysia has seen a meteoric rise in growth over the last couple of decades. Rapid changes in social structures inevitably bring new challenges, especially to a young nation like ours.
Subversive elements are always lurking to undermine our cultural diversity.This Leader will not rant on recent reported incidents which have aroused suspicion, mistrust and hatred in some communities.
Suffice to say that such disruptions we must guard against. We should not allow them to seep into our consciousness and destroy what we have built.
This Leader wants Malaysians to march on and celebrate our diversity. Continue fending off the subversive elements. Bask in our differences - our diverseness should unite, not divide us.
We cannot afford to convulse in a frenzy of racist hatred, reminiscent of the May 13, 1969, racial riots. It would be ashamedly regressive.
Cultural diversity is to be celebrated.
It is the key to getting along with each other. Hari Raya, Deepavali, Christmas, Chinese New Year and what-have-yous - they are occasions that promote harmony, goodwill and unity.
We have many things to be thankful for. Every celebration is a reminder of what it means to be Malaysian.
This newspaper wishes everyone Gong Xi Fa Cai.