By Aulia Rachmat, published in The Jakarta Post, February 4, 2008.
Celebrating Chinese New Year (Imlek) without Chinese lanterns is like being in a house with no light.
In addition, the Chinese believe that while red is a symbol of happiness, gold is a symbol of wealth. So, it is understandable that Chinese New Year ornaments like lanterns are artistically designed with a bold red background embellished by a gold motif.
The Chinese lantern is really at the heart of the celebration. Not only are the lanterns beautiful and decorative, but they symbolize Chinese history and culture.
Our days are brightened by sunlight; our homes are illuminated by electric lights. Otherwise, we would all live in darkness. Similarly, Chinese lanterns have for years represented the light of hope at every Chinese New Year celebration.
The Chinese New Year celebration starts with the new moon and ends on the full moon 15 days later. The end of the 15-day celebration is marked by the lantern festival.
The 15-day New Year celebration is a time for forgiveness and making peace with others. Friendliness is reflected in the exchanging of gifts and/or the giving of ang pao (red envelopes containing money) by family members, friends and neighbors. The giving of ang pao, however, is usually done by well-to-do families. Chinese-Indonesian employers are accustomed to giving ang pao to their employees; and wealthy people give ang pao to the poor.
The lantern itself is not only a symbol of brightness, but also of love. During the lantern festival, singles get together to play find-a-partner games with lanterns.
In welcoming the Year of the Rat, many places from homes to businesses to hotels and malls are adorned with lavish Chinese ornaments such as lanterns and prosperity trees.
Prosperity trees with their hanging “fruit” of ang pao are a common scene in the celebration setting, and lanterns have also become a permanent fixture at Chinese New Year.
To make this year’s celebration more festive, Grand Hyatt Hotel is decorating its spacious lobby and lounge with an array of hanging paper lanterns.
“This is the great red celebration!” Grand Hyatt marketing communication manager Gina Desmeralda said, adding, “The red is a symbol of happiness and we want to give our guests merriment in welcoming the Year of the Rat. Also, our lanterns are decorated with vertical gold stripes in hope for a prosperous year.”
Chinese people are accustomed to hanging lanterns inscribed with Chinese characters in their homes and businesses during the New Year celebration. It is said that the characters represent a various of meanings and virtues. “In essence, this is to ask for blessings from the Almighty,” said Lina, a Chinese-Indonesian who bought lanterns to hang in her shop-house dwelling.
She added that in addition to adorning their homes with festive ornaments, those celebrating Chinese New Year should consider buying blooming plants such as narcissus and lilies to symbolize rebirth and new growth.
“Flowers are believed to be a symbol of growing wealth and career progress. And fortune will be with whoever has flowers blooming in their home on New Year’s Day,” she explained. She always has live flowers at Chinese New Year, although despite her plants blooming on Chinese New Year’s Day last year, she said she had neither good nor bad luck during the year.
“Chinese culture is unique and I’m glad that it has become part of Indonesia’s rich diversity,” Ciputra Mall’s general manager Ciputra Sugwantono Tanto said, referring to the mall’s theme this year of Living in Harmony, the Chinese Heritage in Indonesia.
Not only are malls like Puri Indah, Kelapa Gading and Artha Gading decking their atriums with lanterns, they are also staging special New Year’s events like barongsai (lion dance) and Chinese song competitions.