The Chinese New Year
Tradition in Indonesia

Find out what's specials during Imlek, the Chinese New Year! | #ExploreSunda

Imlek is a celebration of the Chinese New Year. In four-season countries, it is also known as the Spring Festival – to welcome the spring. Since it is based on the lunar calendar, the date varies every year. On February 10, 2024, we celebrate the Chinese New Year 2575.

According to Chinese beliefs, there are twelve Chinese zodiacs: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep/Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. Unlike the Western zodiacs, which change every month during a year, each Chinese zodiac sign is assigned for a year in a twelve-year cycle. Moreover, every Chinese zodiac has five elements: wood, metal, water, fire, and earth. Since the Chinese zodiac is based on astronomy, astrology, and mythology, every combination of the zodiacs and their elements portrays unique characteristics for people born in that particular year. Considering twelve Chinese zodiacs and their five elements take turns yearly, the same combination will only happen every 60 years.

2024 is the time for the Wood Dragon, which begins on February 10, 2024, and ends on January 28, 2025.

Out of the twelve Chinese Zodiacs, the dragon is the only one that is mythical. While the Western dragons are considered fire-breathing evil that destroys everything in their paths, the Chinese dragons are considered auspicious, supreme, and noble divine. They have the ability to control wind and rain, fly through the skies, and bring prosperity to the world. They symbolize excellence, luck, power, nobility, and success.

The way people depict the Western and Chinese dragons is also different. The Western dragon breathes fire and looks like a scaly dinosaur with two wings, two horns, four legs, and a spiked tail. On the other hand, the Chinese dragon has a big head with large manes, two long whiskers, two branched horns, four short legs with five claws on each leg, and a long scaly, serpentine body.

According to the Chinese calendar, 2024 is the year of the Wood Dragon.According to the Chinese calendar, 2024 is the year of the Wood Dragon.

Imlek is the time for family gatherings and wishes for good health and prosperity. One of the Chinese Indonesian traditions on Chinese New Year's Eve is to have a family dinner. Some continue the festive by praying in the temple. On New Year's Day, the younger family members visit their parents and elders to greet them. Children usually receive hongbao – a red envelope filled with money. It represents the blessings from the elder to the young.

On the day of Imlek, it is customary for people to wear new clothes, typically red ones, to keep bad spirits and bad luck away. Not just for themselves, but people also buy new clothes for their children, parents and elders. As a result, shopping malls often organize sales, including midnight sales. You can find a variety of red clothes, such as batik, dresses, cheongsam, and shirts, many of which are adorned with dragon prints. This year being the year of the dragon, Mushu, the little dragon from Disney's Mulan, also makes an appearance.

In addition to these imlek traditions, let’s explore special things that only happen during this festive :)

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Lantern Festival in Living World Mall, Alam Sutera, South Tangerang to celebrate the Chinese New Year 2574.

Specials During Imlek

Basket Cake, Dodol Keranjang, and Nian Gao are some of the names of this special cake to celebrate Imlek / Chinese New Year.Special food during Imlek: Dodol Keranjang (Nian Gao).
Lion Dance, based on the Chinese myth during Imlek / Chinese New Year.Special performance during Imlek: Lion Dance.

One of the foods that is only made and sold during Imlek is basket cakes. We usually call it "dodol keranjang" or dodol China. It is called Nian Gao in Mandarin. This cake is named basket cake because a bamboo basket is used as a mold for the dough. The primary ingredients in this cake are glutinous rice powder and palm sugar. Nowadays, it comes with various additional flavors such as vanilla, chocolate, and pandanus (the extract of pandanus leaves provides a green color and a pleasant smell). The cake can be eaten as is, but many prefer to steam it with shredded coconut or fry it with beaten eggs. The roundness and stickiness of "dodol keranjang" symbolize the closeness and harmony in the family.

During Imlek, two special performances take place: the lion dance or Barongsai in Bahasa Indonesia, and the dragon dance. The Chinese believe that these animals bring prosperity and ward off bad luck. The dragon is typically carried by multiple performers due to its long body.

Dragon, based on Chinese myth, often performs during Imlek / Chinese New Year.Special performance during Imlek: Dragon dance.

The lion dance is gaining immense popularity in Indonesia, with many shopping malls inviting it nowadays. The dance involves two men representing the lion under one hood. There are several varieties of this dance, including dancing on tables and poles, as well as performing modern styles like the moonwalk and Gangnam style!

Among them, the pole lion dance, or Barongsai Tonggak in Bahasa Indonesia, is considered the most challenging because the performers must jump and dance on 21 poles of varying heights and ranges.

At the end of the performance, we give hongbao as a gesture of appreciation to the lion and opportunities to take pictures with them. Children love doing it :)

My favorite place to watch pole lion dance performances is at Living World Mall in Alam Sutera, South Tangerang. The group that always performs in this mall is Kong Ha Hong. They won several pole lion dance championships, both national and world championships. Their lions are always expressive and agile, and their performances are always creative and entertaining. They have an LED lion dance, a very bright lion with its body fully covered with LED. They perform various pole lion dance stunts, such as a drunken lion dance, and even the monkey king Sun Go Kong plays with the Barongsai on top of the poles. For the Imlek celebration, the Barongsai will throw candies to the audience from high above the pole in the middle of the performance. These candies symbolize wishes for sweet or good things in life. At the end of the pole lion dance show, they often perform the Gang Nam lion dance. One thing is for sure: their lions always come in pride, they never come alone :)

Look at the crowd! People are eagerly waiting for each of their performances. 

Pole Lion Dance, some called it an extreme sport, others called it an art, but one thing for sure they are beautifully choreograph, jumping on top of high poles.A Pole Lion Dance performance always attracts crowds.

I have compiled their performances over the years and put some of the best pictures in sliders below. I hope you enjoy watching their performance as much as I do. :)

Finally, I wish you a Happy Chinese New Year that brings good luck, good health, and prosperity.

Happy Chinese New Year! Wishing you of abundance, filled with good fortune, perfect health, and glowing prosperity in the year of the Dragon. | 10 February 2024 |

Presently, Imlek is one of the national holidays in Indonesia. Have you checked out the vacation spots all over Sunda? Explore the cities of Jakarta, Bandung, and Bogor. Beautiful beaches and highlands are also great places for a holiday.

Things to do in Jakarta.
Puncak Pass.
Pangandaran beach.

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