New Year's Day


Most families awaken early on New Year's Day as sleeping late is believed to make you lazy in the coming year. It is very important to look your best on this day as not only will you be meeting many family members and guests, but also because your appearance and attitude reflects on the upcoming year. Everyone makes an effort to wear new clothes that are predominantly red. The first person one meets and the first words heard are significant as to what one's fortunes will be for the coming year. So, children pai-pai to their parents and wish them "Gong Xi Fa Cai" meaning 'Wishing you prosperity'. Parents give their children ang pao, a small red envelope containing money. Ang poa is also given to children of close relatives and unmarried family members after they have wished an elder Happy New Year. Once you are married you are considered to be a giver of ang poa and no longer receive it. It is unlucky to greet anyone in a bedroom so everyone, even the sick, should get dressed and sit in the living room.


Although Chinese want to look nice on New Year's Day, it is considered unlucky to wash you hair on that day, as doing so will wash away your luck. Consequently, hair salons are extremely busy on New Year's Eve, with some salons in Indonesia doubling their prices. Customers are expected to pay the inflated prices, and hairdressers also expect ang poa. In Indonesian salons with a large Chinese clientele, this practice can continue throughout the 15-day celebration.
After the greetings of the New Year have been given to the immediate family members, families proceed to the house of the oldest family member. Traditional families may even consult a Chinese Almanac to determine the best time to visit and even the direction in which they should leave their home.
New Year's Day is filled with family gatherings. While New Year's Eve celebrations are normally for the immediate family, on New Year's Day you should visit neighbors and distant relatives. According to tradition, people check on family and neighbors to make sure that the evil Nian monster had not eaten them. Superstition holds that women shouldn't go out to visit on the first day after New Year's because the household luck might go out with them. In some areas the second day is the day wives go to their parent's home, taking their children to see their grandparents. In Indonesia, the practice of visiting family and friends is more a sign of respect than due to belief in a monster. Most Chinese Indonesians spend the entire day driving around to visit family members; these visitations are a sign of respect that is highly valued in the Chinese community. If it is impossible to visit all the people that you want to see in one day, it is acceptable to visit any time during the next 15 days.
When family and friends visit during the New Year's holiday, it is important to serve food or snacks that bring good fortune. The word for cake 'goa' sounds like a word which means 'exalted or 'lofty' and when preceded by the word for year 'nian' it sounds like a term that means 'to advance in an upwardly fashion year by year'. So, Indonesian Chinese often serve 'kue lapis', an Indonesian layered cake, to their visiting guests. The layers of the cake symbolize the ladder to achievement during the coming year. Many Indonesian Chinese bring a gift of oranges or tangerines and enclose ang poa in the bag. Tangerines with leaves intact ensure that one's relationship with others will remain intact. For newlyweds this also represents the branching of the couple into a family with many children.
Due to past government policies which discriminated against the Chinese community, which makes up approximately thre to four percent of the Indonesian population, no public display of the Chinese New Year celebrations have been permitted since 1967, when the Chinese bore the brunt of shifting political regimes. It is only recently, after 1997 and the end of the Suharto regime that some of the discriminative policies, both written and unwritten, have been revoked or changed. Previously any display of Chinese signage on buildings or Chinese public celebrations were forbidden by the Indonesian government. Although the government now officially allows public celebrations, most Chinese still feel more comfortable and secure celebrating the New Year festivities privately in their homes. It is also popular amongst well-to-do Indonesian Chinese to travel to Singapore or Hong Kong where they feel free to observe the holidays fully.

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