Klentengs Prepare for Chinese New Year

A number of vihara (temples) are preparing Chinese New Year 2559 on Thursday, Feb. 7, 2008. This is certainly a major celebration for the Chinese community. A vihara is where Buddhists worship, while local Chinese call it kelenteng.

Vihara can be found all over Jakarta, while the size depends upon the location and size of congregation. However, West Jakarta has the largest number of vihara. The most popular vihara in the city is Jin-De-Yuan temple or Vihara Dharma Bhakti, located in Petak Sembilan, West Jakarta. It is believed to be one of the oldest vihara in Jakarta. Next there is Da Bo Gong temple, also known as Vihara Bahtera Bhakti, in Ancol, North Jakarta, as well as Vihara Dharma Widjaja on Jl. Kemenangan, Glodok, West Jakarta.

The managements of the vihara have started to gear up for the Chinese New Year by, for example, cleaning up, repainting and decorating the temples with lanterns. Some repairs have also taken place for the convenience of worshipers. They have also coordinated with the authorities for smooth proceedings at Chinese New Year as Iwan Suci Jatmiko explains.

It is only natural for the vihara to prepare for the day as a huge number of worshipers will visit them. The number of worshipers visiting run in the thousands at large vihara.

The word Imlek, which is what Chinese New Year is called in Indonesia, means the transition to the new year according to the Chinese calendar, which is based on the movement of the moon. Imlek comes from the Hokkien dialect, while in Mandarin, the national language of mainland China, it is Yin Lie. Yin means the moon and Lie is the calendar.

The atmosphere of the Chinese New Year can be clearly seen in the various decorations, red lanterns hung in many places and statues of dragons and the phoenix. Red is the dominant color of the Chinese New Year. Numerous new year greetings can also be seen in the media, Gong Xi Fa Cai. Gong Xi means congratulations or greetings, while Fa Cai means great prosperity. Gong Xi Fa Cai, therefore, has a practical meaning of best wishes for the new year.

Several days before the Chinese New Year, many Chinese go shopping at Glodok, West Jakarta, for every need of the major day. Glodok is indeed considered the Chinatown of Jakarta. Along Jl. Pancoran one can easily find vendors selling red envelopes, lanterns and numerous other ornaments.

Ang pao or red money envelopes or boxes are sold in various sizes. Ang pao can be used for various occasions besides Chinese New Year, such as weddings, birthdays, etc. Red lanterns, called Teng-Lung, also come in various sizes, while the price tags also vary, from Rp 20,000 up to over Rp 100,000 depending on the shape and size.

The Chinese take fruit baskets to the vihara as offerings, as well as candles, lanterns and cakes.

Each item has a special meaning. Oranges are symbols of prosperity and safety, lanterns symbolize light in order to bring great fortune and enlightenment from the Creator. Cakes mean a harmonious family life, while layered cakes signify prosperity.

Oranges and other fruit are placed on the altar, which is adorned with statues of gods. Lanterns, given to the vihara long before the major day, are hung with their names and addresses. This is to request blessings from the Creator.

Next to ang pao, fruit, lanterns and cakes, Chinese New Year is not complete without milkfish, which also signifies prosperity in the coming year. Besides being a part of the offering, the milkfish generally ends up being part of dinner. Many affluent Chinese also give the fish to relatives.

On Chinese New Year, the Chinese visit their elders and relatives just like Muslims do at Lebaran. Relatives hosting the gatherings usually prepare various Chinese dishes, while children and teenagers receive money in ang pao.

The festive atmosphere of Chinese New Year usually lasts for two weeks and ends with the Cap Go Meh rituals. During this period various Chinese attractions can be found in the city, such as the lion and dragon dances, which are performed at malls, hotels, recreation centers and restaurants. In a number of Asian countries, such as Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan, such attractions are well coordinated and are included in tourism schedules by the related governments.