Chinese New Year (Imlek) is coming. Decorations are going up in shopping malls as temples plan events to welcome the Year of Water Snake. In Jakarta and in other cities, families prepare traditional food and look forward to celebrating with loved ones.
Muslim clerics, however, have mixed opinions about the festive day.
Harry Palmer, a men’s suit designer and founder of Harry’s Palmer Orchestra, is busy as a bee ahead of the festivity.
Sixty-five-year-old Harry ordered over 100 kilograms of signature Imlek snack kue keranjang (sticky rice cake) from a relative in Tangerang last month and has bought Mandarin oranges in bulk. He also has a big pile of angpao (red envelopes containing money) to be given to visitors to his house
“I will give kue keranjang to all of my neighbors regardless their religion or ethnicity. I order the ones that are wrapped in leaves because they are more deliciously fragrant,” he told The Jakarta Post over the telephone.
“Sometimes, youngsters today forget their culture. I feel obliged to show the tradition to my kids and grandchildren. Chinese New Year is a part of Indonesian culture because we are one of the ethnicities in
Indonesia,” he said.
Many young Chinese descendants in Indonesia might be forgetful of their culture because the 32 oppressive years of Soeharto’s rule when no recognition was given to Chinese culture, including the Chinese language or any celebration of Chinese New Year. Only after the year 2000 could they freely practice Chinese religions and traditions, thanks to then president Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid.
In Jakarta, Kelapa Gading shopping mall complex in North Jakarta has a Chinese New Year theme from Jan. 23 to Feb. 24 to celebrate the event.
Red lanterns are arranged like raindrops at Ciputra Mall in West Jakarta. The mall will bring a Chinese flair to the city through various cultural distractions such as Wayang Potehi, a traditional Chinese puppet show and classical Chinese opera and dance until the middle of this month.
In Semarang, Taoist, Confucians and Buddhists were seen giving a robust ritual cleansing to statuary at the Tay Kak Sie Temple on Tuesday. “This tradition has been going on for hundreds of years,” said Nio Peng Lim, adding that the cleansing of the temple and statues symbolized their hopes for cleanliness to greet Imlek.
Elders Ong Kim Hwa, 73, Oey Tien Nio, 76, and Oey Gin Nio, 73, enthusiastic polished the censer near the Kwan Im Po Sat statue.
Meanwhile, just like their difference of opinion on Christmas, Muslim clerics have varied opinions on whether it is OK for Muslims to participate in the celebrations.
Cleric Masurur Ahmad of Pondok Pesantren al-Qodir, an Islamic boarding school in Yogyakarta, said on Tuesday that it was okay for Muslims to participate, because it is only a tradition with no religious implications or background.
Chairman of Yogyakarta Interfaith Forum (FPUB) Abdul Muhaimin said there was an erroneous perception among Indonesian Muslims that the celebration was religious while in fact it is simply a tradition.
A different opinion however was expressed by chairman of the Surakarta chapter of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), Zainal Arifin Adnan.
“It’s just the same as Muslims attending Christmas celebration or giving greetings. It is haram,” said Zainal.
Slamet Susanto, Suherdjoko and Kusumasari Ayuningtyas contributed reporting from Semarang, Yogyakarta and Surakarta. (Jakarta Post)