Best Places To Enjoy Festive Chinese New Year Celebrations in Indonesia

30 Dec 2016

With a large population of Chinese descent -most of whom have lived here for generations, the Chinese culture and traditions have taken root deeply in various parts of the Indonesian Archipelago. For that reason, Chinese New Year- here known as Imlek –has been declared a national holiday and is always celebrated with lots of fanfare and festivities in many cities and towns across the archipelago.

In 2017, Chinese New Year will fall on 28th January, but celebrations will continue for 15 days culminating on 11th February with the Festivities of Cap Go Meh (literally meaning the 15th day of the first month).

On New Year's Eve, Chinese families whose members may be living far apart, make it point to gather at New Year’s Eve family dinner.  The next morning they will all go to the temple to pray and burn incense and joss sticks.  Preparing for this auspicious occasion, temples have been spruced up and decorated with red lanterns and huge red candles. During the two weeks celebrations, groups of lion dancers prance around the city accompanied by loud drums and cymbals. In response, people give red packets of money or ang pao in its mouth, to receive good luck from the lions. Meanwhile at parades, athletic dancers carry colorful "dragons" zig-zaging along the streets that are crowded with onlookers.


So ready for some festive Chinese New Year celebrations, here are some of the best places to enjoy it!


Jakarta

In the capital city of Jakarta, Chinese New Year is celebrated around China town, at around Petak Sembilan and Glodok area, where stands the Yin De Yuan Temple. Built in 1650, the temple is known as the oldest Chinese Temple in the city. Although the temple was burnt down last year, it is being rebuilt since people will flock there anyway. Throughout the city, Malls and shopping centers will be festooned with colorful Chinese New Year decorations, and people gather at restaurants to enjoy Chinese New Year meals with the whole family. Special Chinese New Year themed shows will also be held in most Malls and recreation parks across the city.


Semarang, Central Java

In the city of Semarang, capital of Central Java Province,- where the Chinese Imperial Emissary, Admiral Zheng He (here better known as Cheng Ho ) first set foot on Java, - its Chinatown, known as Pasar Semawis is crowded when the annual Pasar Imlek or Chinese New Year market is held here selling decorations, special New Year clothes, knick-knacks and foodstuff  for families to prepare for the big day. The market is then transformed into a festive arena where open air stages are set up for performances along Gang Pinggir and Srawung. Here the public can enjoy distinct Chinese dances, music and cultural performances such as the Wayang Potehi, Gambang Semarang, Twa Kok Djwee, Barongsai (Lion Dance), toya games and even Wushu.


Solo, Central Java

In the city of Solo, Central Java Province, Chinese New Year is celebrated around Pasar Gede Market near the Tien Kok Sie temple. Here, Imlek is celebrated by both Chinese descendants as well as local Javanese in a unique traditional festival known as Grebeg Sudiro prior to New Year’s Eve. The word grebeg is, in fact, a Javanese term normally used for traditional celebrations in conjunction with Islamic events. Just like other ‘grebeg’ celebrations, the festival will also be highlighted with the parade of ‘gunungan’ or giant piled up cone of various of fruits, vegetables, or cakes which will later be ‘fought over’ by the spectators. The tradition of grabbing and even fighting for a piece of produce is based on the Javanese teaching that says : ora babah ora mamah, meaning there is no food without struggle. The festival will also feature traditional Javanese and Chinese art performances.


Batam and Bintan

The islands of Batam and Bintan are favorite places where people will come in droves from Singapore and Malaysia and surrounding islands to pray at the huge Chinese temples here to celebrate the New Year. On Bintan is an old temple that is completely entwined among the roots of a large banyan tree.


Selatpanjang Town, Meranti Regency, Riau Islands

Still in the Riau islands, celebrating the first six days of the first month of the Chinese calendar, the town of Selatpanjang, capital of the Meranti regency, comes alive with the Water Splashing War tradition. The local Chinese call this tradition Cian Cui, which has become one of Selatpanjang’s main attraction and cultural uniqueness. Cian Cui is not only celebrated by local Chinese descendents, but also include other Selatpanjang residents from the Malay, Java, Minang and other ethnic groups as well as those from outside Selatpanjang who come and join in. Together they mingle annd enjoy the festivity and hilarity of Cian Cui which also attracts tourists from other Asian countries including from Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan and China.


Palembang, South Sumatra

In Palembang, the capital of South Sumatra Province, Chinese New Year Celebrations are centered around the Dempo Chinatown.

Building up to Cap Go Meh, which is the peak of the celebrations, the Imlek festival is filled with an array of competitions, art performances, and of course, a culinary fiesta. Some of the exciting features of the festival will include a culinary bazaar, an ornaments and accessories bazaar, mass Tai-Chi and aerobic exercises, and a lot more.

The pinnacle of the New Year’s celebration on the 15th day or known as Cap Go Meh is centered at Kamaro Island, located midstream in the wide Musi River delta where there are pagodas and Chinese temples. On this day, thousands of Chinese ethnicity from Palembang and around Indonesia, as well as from neighboring Singapore, Malaysia to Hong Kong and Taiwan gather on the island, arriving here by boat.


Singkawang, West Kalimantan

Arguably, the most festive Chinese New Year Celebration in Indonesia takes place during the Cap Go Meh at the city of Singkawang, situated some 2 hours’ drive from Pontianak the capital city of West Kalimantan. Normally a quiet city, Singkawang comes alive each Chinese New Year, reaching its climax at Cap Goh Meh. For this event, Chinese from around the region, including those from Java and Sumatra but also from Singapore and Malaysia flock to Singkawang to celebrate the event with family and friends. What makes the Cap Go Meh special here is the spectacular Tatung Parade which has always been the main highlight of the festival. Intended to repel misfortune for the entire year, Tatungs are the principle medium of the Cap Go Meh ritual here to ward off evil spirits, and cleanse the town and temples from evil and bad luck. Before the Tatung parade, Tatung participants enter into a trance and perform many unbelievable actions, such as stepping on a sword, or piercing steel wires or nails into their cheeks or through their tongues. It is quite incredible to watch that despite such torture, the Tatungs remain completely unscathed. Those who participate in this one-of-a-kind ritual are not only men, but also women and even children.


Aside from these cities, the Imlek Chinese New Year celebration along with the Cap Go Meh festivals are also held festively in other cities including in Bandung, Bogor, Surabaya, Medan, Pontianak, Manado, and many other Indonesian cities.


Header image by Dedi Suhendra

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