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January 30, 2011

By the way ... Lunar New Year is for everyone

Mariani Dewi | Sun, 01/30/2011 2:26 PM |
Swoosh. As soon as the Christmas holiday passed, giant trees were taken down from Jakarta’s shopping malls and in their place stand the plastic pink cheery flowers blooming on dried leafless branches.
Red lanterns have replaced the golden bells. Wooden Chinese performance stages are ready to host happy Chinese songs. Mannequins have shed their party dresses for red clothing. It can only mean one thing — Chinese New Year is coming.
In China, the celebration is not called Chinese New Year, but the Spring Festival. It is the time to celebrate the end of winter and welcome spring. It is based on the lunar calendar and celebrated in Korea, Vietnam, Mongolia and Tibet. However, in Indonesia it is mostly celebrated by Indonesian Chinese descents, and is thereby dubbed Chinese New Year.


When I was young, my family was not doing well. The New Year was a time we waited for — it was the only time we could buy new clothes and feast.
The rituals brought by my grandmother were still upheld, including the body sweeping ritual. I remember my mom would tie a bundle of prayer papers and sweep it over me from head to toe. It was supposed to chase away bad luck so I could start the year afresh. But for me, it was just weird, ticklish and fun.
During the last day of the year my mom would cook dishes as offerings to deities and ancestors. We ate until our stomachs stretched. Then we would sleep, waiting for the next day when we would receive the red envelopes of money.
However, there was one year that was not as much fun. The school authorities decided that no student could skip school that day. They even arranged various tests to make sure all students came to school. I took my exam but could not help wondering, “Why do you want to take my happiness?”
That was the first time I felt that I was treated differently. I started to notice it. People on the street mockingly called me “Cina”. It almost felt like it was a crime having been born with fair skin. It made me dislike myself.
I used to think, “I am an Indonesian. I haven’t even been to China. I don’t know what China is like. Why am I a Cina?”
I resented my grandparents for taking the wooden ship to this place they knew nothing about. They didn’t even speak the language.
Only recently, when I went to their hometown in China, did I understand why. There stood their old house. They lived in a two-by-two meter room with almost no furniture. Winter must have been very cold. That was why they risked drowning — to seek a better living.
My trip overseas also helped put things in perspective. People travel and live outside their native land, and it is not a crime to be an immigrant.
History shows almost everyone is a descendant of immigrants because at some point in the past their ancestors decided to move to somewhere new to stay alive.
It made me feel fine to say I am Cina, just as Batak people say they are Batak, and Javanese say they are Jawa. I can be proud to be an Indonesian and at the same time be proud of my ancestry.
After all, we are not much different. The Chinese New Year is very much like Idul Fitri ce-lebrations.

Family members may live and work apart and hardly have the opportunity to meet. But once a year, everyone will come to their parents’ home and sit around a table for the happiest feast of the year.
It is a time to share stories and hope for a better year. This spirit is shared by all people, especially Indonesians, who have the annual mudik (homecoming) tradition.


This a time we visit our relatives, friends and neighbors to ask, “How have you been?” The festival is a time to meet and reconcile, to forget all grudges and wish everyone happiness and peace for the year to come.
In the end, whatever race we are, are not we entitled to celebrate the start of spring, to hope and to wish for a more prosperous happy year?
— Mariani Dewi
 Happy New year 2011
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