A Season of Renewal & Celebration That All Indonesian Can Enjoy

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SINGER Alena couldn’t hide away her enthusiasm about the up and coming Chinese New Year this year on 26 of February. Understandably, this Malang-born lady of Chinese ethnicity is always flooded with performance requests during such day of celebration. “This year is a little less than usual, maybe because of the recession, yet the schedule is still tighter compared to other days.” So said the singer.

Yes, Chinese New Year in Indonesia has just been initiated as a national holiday by President Abdurrahman Wachid in the year 2000, overruling Presidential Instruction Number 14/1967 limiting the people of Chinese ethnicity to celebrate Chinese New Year. Following up such decision, the consecutive President at that time, Megawati Soekarnoputri, declared Chinese New Year as a national holiday by Presidential Decree Number 19/2002 dated 9 April 2002.

Chinese New Year is one of Chinese traditional holidays, celebrated on the first day in the first month in Chinese calendar, fallen upon the forming of the second new month after the shortest day of winter. However, should there be a leap month of the eleventh or twelvth month towards the new year, Chinese New Year will fall on the third month after the shortest day. Such as what occurred in 2005 and will only occur again in the year 2033. Chinese New Year 2560 this year is set on 26 February 2009

This year’s celebration will remain closely connected to all the myths and rituals that have grown within it. The hanging of red lantern, shooting off firecrackers and hiding the broom are some of the distinctiveness of the entire celebration. The Chinese community will also put up the image of the God Of Doorkeeper during such festivity.

The origin of Chinese New Year has a story of its own. Once upon a time when the spring came and ended the winter, the people had to endure the anguish of a beast called Nian. It came from the bottom of the sea to devour humans. The people found out that the beast was afraid of loud noises and therefore, to keep the beast away, they banged on their drums, ’gongs’ and burned bamboos to make explosive sounds – which then was replaced later on by firecrackers. From then on, at the end of every winter, the people celebrate Chinese New Year by setting off firecrackers and play off the Barongsai dance (Tiger dance), in order to cast away all that is evil and to welcome the coming of spring.

Traditionally, Chinese New Year has been celebrated by the Chinese people all over the world since thousands of years ago. Form an ancient book, it has been discovered that the event can be traced back to Tiongkok, 4699 years ago by the first king, Huang Ti. In accordance to the tradition, they welcome Chinese New Year by filling the day with activities relating to turning everything new, starting from new clothes and new spirit. Yik Nien Fuk Se, Wan Siang Keng Sin, meaning With The Coming Of New Year, Everything Shall Be Renewed. Thesedays, Chinese community prepare the New Year’s celebration by making various kinds of basket cake or tar cake, cleaning the house and temples along with angpao money, while the men clean up the yard or repaint the house.

The series of activities welcoming Chinese New Year begins with a 2558 end-year prayer of blessing or Sam Sip Pu from the morning to the evening. The New Year prayer itself will begin at mid-night to the following morning.

Usually, on Chinese New Year’s eve or Chu Si Ye, all members of the family must gather together to dine in what is known in Chinese as Thuan Yen Fan (Family Dinner). A set of bowl and chopsticks shall be prepared to represent the ones who could not return to home at that time.

The food served pretty much hold its own meaning, such as Kiau Choi which represents longitivity, boiled chicken served in its entirety to represent family prosperity. Whereas fish, shrimp and meatballs are representing San Yuan or the three titles, namely Cuang Yuen, Hue Yuen and Cie Yuen, with the three titles being the titles which are highly respected by the Chinese community during the times of the Emperor.

There will also be Kiau Se or pangsit molded after silver coin from the times of the ancient chinese. According to beliefs, eating Kiau Se will bring fortune to oneself. Traditionally, one of the pangsit is usually stuffed with real coin. It is said that whoever gets the coin will receieve a great fortune. Also prepared on the table is decorated, yet edible, fish. It holds the meaning Nien nien yeu yi or Every Year Abundantly. Boiled down egg-filled rabbitfish (dingkis fish) is a special cuisine becauseit is believed to have the power to bring fortune in the new year.

Chinese New Year in Indonesia is openly celebrated, unlimited to a certain ethnicity like in some countries. ”Chinese New Year in Indonesia is more multicultural because it involves many non-Chinese people, such as many barongsai dancers turn out to be of non-Chinese ethnicity,” said teaching staff of Chinese Study Program of Faculty of Culture Science of University of Indonesia, Johanes Herlijanto upon one occassion.

The aforementioned lecturer of Chinese Culture subject in Indonesia stated that Chinese New Year or locally known as Imlek is a celebration that has been around of thousands of years intended to welcome the spring. However, in Indonesia, it has nothing to do with the spring, summer, autumn or winter in China, because in Indonesia there are only the summer and rainy season.

For Chinese people, Imlek is closely related to the New Year Pray, the God-Allah Pray, praying at a temple, new clothes, dining in good food with family, paycia, angpao money, barongsai or tiger dance, firecrackers, basket cake (chinese cake) and capgome (mixed vegetables) along with the hurling of Tepekong (a kind of statue/mascot).

In the light of the freedom to celebrate Chinese New Year, our friends from the business world won’t miss a chance to turn the event into a business opportunity. Almost every trade centers, malls, restaurants, cafes, hotels, mass media both printed and electronic, all competing to sell and promote their products. Shopping Centers are orientally decorated in respect of the up and coming Chinese New Year. Various kinds of performances related to Chinese New Year are presented to attract customers and viewers. Truly, Chinese New Year no longer belongs to the Chinese people anymore but has become a part of each and every Indonesian. (Danu Kuntoaji)

Jakarta GLOBE, January 22, 2009
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