Chinese New Year in Indonesian


Most Chinese festivals, whether based on seasons, myths about gods or ghosts, or a combination of these, stem from a belief in worshipping the gods to appease them and prevent misfortune. The biggest celebration is the beginning of the Chinese New Year. Chinese New Year's celebrations in Indonesia, known locally as Imlek, incorporate customs, beliefs and practices brought to Indonesia by Chinese immigrants who still follow the practices handed down from their parents.
Although Chinese New Year was not a national holiday on the Indonesian calendar for many years, beginning in 2002, Chinese New Year became a national holiday, to the pleasure of millions of Chinese Indonesians.

Chinese New Year is a time to show respect for those that have passed away and to reunite with family members. Departed relatives are remembered with great respect because they were responsible for laying the foundations for the family's fortune. Although customs may vary across the archipelago and even from family to family according to social position, many customs or versions of them are still observed by the ethnic Chinese community in Indonesia today.
Within the ethnic Chinese community there are immigrants from many regions throughout China. Distinctively different Chinese communities are found in Pontianak for example, when compared to Medan or even Jakarta. Each of these immigrant communities brought the unique traditions of their hometowns to Indonesia. This diversity in origins explains the diversity in the way Chinese New Year is celebrated by communities throughout the Indonesian archipelago.


History of Chinese New Year

There are several theories as to the origins of the Chinese New Year. The Chinese calendar is based on a combination of lunar and solar movements. Each lunar year is represented by one of 12 animals. This calendar is also called the Chinese Zodiac. The current Chinese lunar calendar was developed during the Tang dynasty (A.D. 618-907), with a lunar cycle of 29.5 days. The Chinese insert an extra month once every two to three years to compensate for the differences between the lunar calendar and the solar movements, similar to adding an extra day for leap year. This is why the Chinese New Year falls on a different day each year.
Chinese New Year's celebrations start with the New Moon on the first day of the year and will end on the full moon 15 days later. It is also sometimes referred to as the Spring Festival or the "Beginning of Spring." Although known as Chinese New Year the Lunar New Year is actually celebrated by others besides the Chinese.
The word 'Nian' meaning 'year' in Chinese is also the name of a monster that preyed on people the night before the beginning of the New Year. A popular myth describes Nian as having a large mouth, able to swallow people whole. Villagers in China were all scared of the Nian monster. One day, an old man confronted Nian and said, "I hear that you are capable of eating all the people but they are not worthy opponents for you. You should swallow other beasts of prey." The monster heeded the old man's advice. He stopped harassing the villagers and went after other beasts of prey instead, forcing them to retreat into the forest in fear of Nian.
The old man turned out to be an immortal god. Before he left he instructed the people to put up red paper decorations on their windows and doors at the year's end to scare away Nian if he should come back, as red is the color Nian feared the most. From then on, the tradition of observing the conquest of Nian has been carried on in Chinese communities around the world. It is also thought that setting off firecrackers would scare away Nian. Although many ethnic Chinese in Indonesia may have forgotten the origins of these customs, they still celebrate the holiday with red decorations on their homes and use firecrackers to add to the excitement of the celebrations.


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