From 'barongsai'
to exchanging 'angpao':

Interesting facts about
'Imlek' in Indonesia

By Donny Fernando

The Chinese New Year 2020 celebration is almost upon us and Chinese people throughout the country are welcoming the start of the Year of the Rat.

The celebration will usually involve fascinating sensations. The Chinese New Year is inseparable from the attraction of barongsai (lion dance) performances, the strong aroma of incense in temples, the sweetness of Chinese New Year cakes and dodol (traditional sticky sweets), as well as the tradition of giving angpao from elders to children. It offers an appealing view into the Chinese community and is regarded as one of the strongest points of diversity in Indonesia.

Click the picture for more info

  • Nian Gao
  • Incense
  • Angpao
  • Barongsai

'Nian Gao' and 'dodol':
'Imlek' treats that stick to tradition

Chinese New Year would be incomplete without kue keranjang (basket cake) or dodol (traditional toffee-like confection made of sugar palm). Sweet in taste and with a chewy texture, these treats have long been part of the tradition of welcoming a new year in the Chinese calendar.

But neither are easy to make, requiring patience and accuracy alongside a long list of ingredients.

Made from glutinous rice flour and sugar, basket cakes — also called nian gao — need to be baked in the oven for exactly 12 hours in medium heat. This is done so that the basket cake will be cooked evenly and have just the right plump texture.

The making of dodol, meanwhile, requires consistent manual power. The mixture of flour, coconut milk, brown sugar and white sugar must be stirred for three to five hours nonstop over a wood fire. In addition to adding fragrance, the use of wood helps to prevents the dough from crusting during the cooking process. (wng)

Burning incense:
A bridge between the human and spirit world

As Chinese New Year approaches, fortune-seekers begin to spend time praying at temples. Burning incense is part of the tradition.

Incense or hio is believed to be a bridge between the human and spirit worlds for followers of Tridharma (Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism). Smoke rises high into the air, symbolizing the connection between the prayers of living people and God and their ancestors.

Incense sticks are available in various sizes, ranging from about 22 cm in length to enormous sticks as high as 2 meters. They are made from aromatic plant materials such as sandalwood and jasmine. The scent evokes sacred sanctity and creates a serene atmosphere for prayers. The intense smell of burning incense will fill the air on Chinese New Year. (wng)

'Angpao', the art of giving

Ancient Chinese folklore says that people put red envelopes, filled with money, under their children’s pillows to prevent the devil from cursing the young ones. For years, the tradition has remained, but now it has a different purpose. These days, red envelopes are used to celebrate the Chinese New Year through an act of giving from elders to younger ones.

Famously called angpao (red envelopes), they were once filled with candies or sweets for children. Slowly, parents began to fill them with money instead of sweets, allowing children to buy what they wanted. Every Lunar New Year, angpao are commonly exchanged, but only married people are obligated to give them. As marriage is considered to be a transition from childhood to adulthood, married people are assumed to be more economically stable, and thus, they are expected to hand out the red envelopes. (wng)

The history of ‘barongsai’ in Indonesia

Originating in China’s Tang dynasty, barongsai (lion dance) is a traditional dance performance that has long been part of the Chinese New Year celebration.

Barongsai depicts the Chinese legend of Nian, a ferocious mythical sea creature that terrorized the people in China. To drive the monster away, people started to make noise with a percussion orchestra and created a brightly colored effigy in the shape of a lion. The plan worked: the beast became afraid and left the village.

To make sure the monster never came back, the villagers would perform the ceremony once a year around the Lunar New Year. Nowadays, the lion dance is performed during the Chinese New Year celebration by Chinese communities around the world to chase away the bad luck of the previous year, with the hope of welcoming a bright new year.

Barongsai is a bold example of Chinese folk culture, which spread when Chinese people migrated all over the world. In Indonesia, several Chinese communities established barongsai groups to introduce this traditional art among the local communities.

One of them is the Kong Ha Hong dance troupe. Founded in 1999 by the Hong clan, descendants of the world-famous Chinese martial artist and folk hero Wong Fei-hung, the troupe fought a great battle to bring the barongsai culture to Indonesia.

All Chinese traditions, including barongsai, were forbidden in Indonesia after former president Soeharto seized power in the 1960s. But the restrictions are now history. When Abdurrahman Wahid was elected president in 1999, he allowed the dance to be performed during festivals and declared Chinese New Year a facultative holiday.

Former president Megawati Soekarnoputri followed suit and made Chinese New Year a national holiday. Since then, barongsai has come alive in the country every Chinese New Year. (wng)

  • Managing Editor

    Evi Mariani

  • Editor

    Maria Wening Gitomartoyo

  • UI/UX Designer

    Sandy Riady Hasan

    Kevin Setiawan

  • Technology

    Adri Putranto

    Abdul Harris


    Indra Gusti Prasetya

  • Multimedia

    Bayu Widhiatmoko

    Wendee Widiantini

    I Gede Dharma JS

    Donny Fernando

    Ahmad Zamzami

    Rian Irawan

    Wienda Parwitasari

    Oki Maulana

    Juni Ananta

    Dionnasius Aditya