In Malang, East Java, a model in Chinese costume celebrates Lunar New Year, which starts the Year of the Goat. (AFP Photo/Aman Rochman)

Syncretist Celebrations of Imlek, Lent and Tolerance


FEBRUARY 20, 2015

Jakarta. With the Chinese New Year coinciding with the second day of Lent, Chinese Catholics and Confucians in several cities across Indonesia staged joint ceremonies on Thursday in a show of religious tolerance.

Joint prayer ceremonies were observed at the Hallowed Cross Catholic Church in Cilincing, North Jakarta, where parishioners say the church has staged Chinese New Year celebrations for the past 10 years.

“This year’s celebration is much simpler because it coincides with our pre-Easter rituals,” said Widiyoko, the church’s Chinese New Year chief organizer.

Celebrations at the church, where 25 percent of its 6,000 members are ethnic Chinese, began at 8 a.m. with a mass and ended with a lion dance performance.

The church also gave alms to hundreds of impoverished locals, mainly Muslims.

“Events like this add to the spirit of togetherness. It makes us appreciate one another and not differentiate people based on their ethnicity or religion,” churchgoer Florentina Ninie said.

Religious Affairs Minister Lukman Hakim Saifuddin wished Indonesians a prosperous Chinese New Year on Thursday, urging that celebrations be allowed to take place with tolerance.

“I think our society has already been shown to be tolerant, even though there are many religious communities who do not accustom themselves to Imlek,” said Lukman, referring to the Lunar New Year by its Indonesian name.

A similar joint celebration was also observed at the Holy Family Catholic Church in Cibinong, Bogor, according to Bogor’s bishop, Paskalis Bruno Syukur, who presided over the mass.

The Jakarta Police deployed more than 3,000 officers to boost security in the city ahead of the festivities.

The festivities at the start of the Lunar New Year are most commonly associated with ethnic Chinese, but are also celebrated by other communities, including those who identify as Korean (who call it Seollal) and Vietnamese (who speak of Tet).

During the 32-year rule of the late strongman Suharto, the festivities for the start of the Lunar New Year, as well as other expressions of Chinese cultural identity, were banned.

In 2001, then-president Abdurrahman Wahid, popularly known as Gus Dur, revoked the discriminatory regulations and in 2002, then-president Megawati Soekarnoputri declared Chinese New Year a national holiday; it was celebrated as such for the first time in 2003.