The Teochew and Hokkien communities worldwide celebrated the birthday of the Supreme August Jade Emperor (God of Heaven) in grand style on the ninth day of the Lunar New Year, which fell on February 8 this year. While Chinese people from other clans celebrated Spring Festival eight days earlier, legend has it that the Hokkiens hid themselves in sugar cane plantations in ancient China during that time, as they were threatened by another ethnic group.
When the enemies gave up the search, the Hokkiens emerged from their hideout, incidentally on the birthday of the God of Heaven. Thus, they believed that they were being protected by the Heavenly God. And since then, the birthday celebration was also a thanksgiving of sorts.
A prerequisite offering item is a pair of ‘whole’ sugar cane plants, from the roots to the shoots. Coincidentally, the sugar cane is pronounced as kam chia in Hokkien, which sounds like “kam sia” (Hokkien for “thank you”). Other items offered to the Supreme deity are peach dumpling, fruits and pink pagoda-shaped candy.
In Ipoh, one of the oldest and major temples that celebrates the birthday of the God of Heaven is the Tung Wah Tong cave temple near Tambun. Tung Wah Tong is perched on the side of Gunung Layang-Layang and has a history of 142 years.
Conducted according to Taoist religious rites, volunteers and devotees ascended a flight of stairs with 157 steps to reach the largest prayer chamber as early as 6am to prepare for the celebration. Some 300 devotees took time off from their regular Saturday morning routine to pay homage to the Supreme August Jade Emperor.