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Weekly 5: ‘Imlek’ festivities embrace age-old traditions

  • The Jakarta Post

| Fri, February 8 2013 | 10:46 am
Weekly 5:  ‘Imlek’ festivities embrace age-old traditions

You know that Chinese New Year — or Imlek as locals call it — is right around the corner when gold and red decorations are hung up around the city. But the festivities are not only about watching barongsai (lion dances) on the street, eating the sticky rice cake kue keranjang or waiting for your turn to receive angpao (red envelopes containing money).

The festivities are a showcase of how Chinese descendants across the country still preserve the traditions and beliefs that have been passed on for generations. Here are five of must-do Imlek traditions that few people from the younger generations could fathom. We wish you a prosperous Year of the Water Snake.

Paint the town red

Red is indeed a festive color, but that’s not the reason the Chinese wear red clothes, hand out red angpao and deck their homes with red lamps and tinsel.


Chinese people believe that red brings luck and can drive away bad omens. Legend has it that a mythical beast called Nian arrived on the first day of the New Year and to destroy everything in the village. In the story, the people learned that the beast was scared of anything red as well as noisy firecrackers.

A time for sharing ...

Besides having dinner with the family on the eve of Chinese New Year, married couples also required to give angpao to their children, grandchildren or nieces and nephews who have not yet married. Married couples are considered capable of earning money for a living.

“I still got angpao from my mom when I was still single, but after I got married, I started giving angpao to my parents,” Lin Sin Fe, 30, said.

... not for cleaning around the house

It’s forbidden for the people to dust or clean the house on Chinese New Year and the night before. Oey Seng Lie said Chinese people clean their houses or temples several days before the event.

They prepare to receive guests and blessings on the new year, so sweeping off the dust during the celebration is considered as declining prosperity.

“You can clean the house when you start working after the new year,” he said.

Sweet feast

Kue keranjang and oranges are must-have items in the house for Chinese New Year celebrations. Wrapped by plastic or banana leaves, the cake that is made of glutinous rice, water and sugar, can last for months to a few years. The cake is usually decorated with paper depicting an upside down Chinese character “fu”. The phrase “upside down fu” is identical to “good fortune arrives”.

JP/P.J. LeoJP/P.J. Leo

The Chinese believe there is a philosophical meaning behind the round, sweet and sticky cake.

“The round shape expresses our hope to have a harmonious household, and the family should be solid and should not break up, which is reflected in the sticky texture,” Chinese descendant Harry Palmer told The Jakarta Post.

He said the sweet taste meant that the relationship in the family would remain sweet for years, while the long shelf-life reflected a hope to develop a strong faith.

JP/Ricky YudhistiraJP/Ricky Yudhistira Another tradition is to place Mandarin oranges on the table. The head of Hian Thian Siang Tee Bio Temple in Palmerah, Oey Seng Lie, 82, said the southern areas of China have a sweet orange harvest around Chinese New Year, which makes the fruits desirable for the festivity.

Some also decorate their homes with Kimkit orange trees, which are believed to bring good fortune as they look like trees full of gold coins.

There must be rain

While many people in the capital city and other areas that are prone to flooding are worried to see heavy rain, many Chinese people still believe that rainfall on Chinese New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day means blessings for the whole year through.

“I believe that rain on Chinese New Year, including light rain, brings us luck. If it does not rain, there may be some bad days ahead,” said Sanjaya Bong, the caretaker of Hian Thian Siang Tee Bio Temple. — JP


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