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Jakarta Post

Weekly 5: Traditions, myths of Chinese New Year

  • The Jakarta Post

    The Jakarta Post

  /   Fri, February 5, 2016   /  03:42 pm
Weekly 5: Traditions, myths of Chinese New Year

JP/P.J. Leo

The Lunar New Year festival is just around the corner, Chinese-Indonesians in the capital are gearing up to say goodbye to the Year of the Sheep and welcome the Year of the Monkey that starts on Feb. 8. Most of them stick to the traditions and myths that have long belonged to Indonesians of Chinese-descent families. In order to have a lucky and more prosperous life in the coming year, here are some of the traditions and myths behind the rituals to welcome the new year:

Sticking '€˜Fu'€™ labels

Numerous Chinese-Indonesian families have a tradition of sticking labels of the Chinese character Fu '€” meaning good fortune '€” to items in their houses.

One such family is that of Ericko Sanders, 23, an employee in a private company. Ericko said that to welcome the Chinese New Year, his family had bought hundreds of Fu stickers to be attached to every item in his house, including bookshelves, the refrigerator and the washing machine.

'€œWith the stickers, we hope that all items in our house will bring good fortune for us,'€ Ericko said. '€œWe usually stick the biggest sticker on the front window of our house.'€ Ericko further said that his family chose to stick the labels horizontally.

Nonetheless, he said some Chinese-Indonesian families prefer to stick the labels vertically. Ericko said that according to those families, vertical stickers were set to show the gods the way to reach their houses. Therefore, the gods would not miss their houses when they send good fortune to humans.

New looks before the new year

Almost all Chinese'€“Indonesians undergo makeovers to their bodies or give a new look to their houses prior to the Chinese New Year. They usually cut their hair or nails, and buy new clothes or underclothes.

Employee Natasha Christi, 33, said that with such actions, these people wanted to throw away their bad luck in the passing year while welcoming good fortune for the new year.

Tasha further said that in her family the members did not cut their hair or nails. Instead, they bought new clothes, as well as colorful bed and pillow sheets. They avoid clothes or sheets in black and white.

'€œWe believe that colorful clothes and sheets will make our lives in the upcoming year as cheerful as the items. We view black and white items as representing sadness,'€ Tasha said.

She added that based on her knowledge, Chinese'€“Indonesian families used to throw away old items in exchange for new ones. Her family, however, did not do that because of financial reasons.

Clean up houses before the new year

'€œChinese-Indonesians usually do not sweep their houses from the first day to the third day of Chinese New Year. They do the cleaning prior to those days, instead,'€ said graduate student Diana Chandra.

Diana explained that for Chinese'€“Indonesians, sweeping floors in Chinese New Year would likely sweep away good fortune from their houses. Thus, many families usually cleaned house before the new year celebration.

Diana, however, said that they could sweep floors during the new year celebration as long as the dirt did not pass through the front door. Moreover, they should throw away the dust or trash using a dustpan.

'€œMany families prefer to use wet cloths when they want to clean house during the new year celebrations,'€ Diana said.

Eat sweet foods

During the new year celebration, Chinese'€“Indonesians have an obligatory food that they believe will bring prosperity and fortune in the upcoming year.

In Tasha'€™s family, for example, they always serve sweet desserts to eat. Tasha said that her family believed eating sweet food during the new year celebration would make their lives in the upcoming year as sweet as the food.

'€œWith the tradition, we hope our lives in the new year will be kept away from difficulties,'€ Tasha said.

Like Tasha, Ericko also said that he and his family always eat kue keranjang (glutinous sweet rice cakes) so that their lives will be full of good fortune in the next year.

Give '€˜angpao'€™

Giving angpao (a gift of money) is a tradition of Chinese New Year. Chinese'€“Indonesians, however, believe only those who have a settled life can give out angpao.

'€œI usually get angpao from relatives who have married and settled lives. In my family, those who are jobless should not give angpao as it will only bring difficulty to the givers'€™ lives,'€ Diana said.

She added that this year she would get angpao like in previous years because she was still studying and did not have a job.

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