Thursday, January 01, 2009

How was your New Year’s Eve?

In Indonesia, the ‘Gregorian’ calendar is used officially and January 1 is a public holiday. The Muslim new year, which was celebrated quietly in the mosques on December 29, is also a national holiday … and is actually a double celebration for the 150 million people living on the island of Java. Their traditional calendar used to be Hindu (and still starts in the western year 78 AD) but was made to line up with the Islamic Arabian calendar’s lunar months by the Muslim Mataram Empire in 1633 AD.

However, most people around Java celebrate the ‘international’ New Year’s Eve very loudly (even those who don’t drink alcohol) and it's a tradition for young people to parade down streets in their cars or on motorbikes (or on tops of buses), blowing horns and yahooing.

In Jakarta, we met up with some friends and had a late meal at the local food court in Kemang, an inner suburb with a busy main street of restaurants and boutiques. About 11 pm, we wandered over to a new complex with a roof-top bar for a few drinks. The fireworks started at 11.40pm … totally disorganised … every building and street for itself. We could see three suburbs, home to about 1million people, and it looked like rockets were being fired at each other as much as the sky. Even the bar didn’t bother with a count-down so no one really noticed when the new year began.

This is a big city of more than 15 million people and the biggest crowd turned up at the National Monument park in Central Jakarta despite the capital city government's cancellation of the popular annual fireworks display and restrictions on the number of revellers who could enter.

The Jakarta Post saw several "rowdy-looking" men break some of the steel fences surrounding the park, while others used wooden ladders to allow people to climb over the fences. Inside hundreds of thousands made their own fun and enjoyed food and drinks on offer from scores of street vendors while kites and fireworks set off by nearby residents lit up the night sky.

On Bali island, New Year's Eve celebrations in the tourist precincts were matched by boisterous Hindu village festivals and a city square carnival provided by the Denpasar city administration.

But in strict Moslem Aceh province, Banda Aceh city administration banned all New Year's Eve celebrations including private parties. "Blowing trumpets is not Islamic, it is not the custom of Muslims ... It is better to start a year by having a prayer," said deputy mayor Illiza Saaduddin Djamal.

In West Sumatra province, homeland of the matriarchal Minang people, the city of Bukittinggi covered its big clock tower in cloth to prevent young people from congregating around. "Usually, around 300,000 people gather at the clock every New Year's Eve to witness the clock strike 12, marking the change of year. Youngsters express their happiness by hugging their mates, and even kissing. People from religious circles have criticized these acts because they are against religious and local traditions," a municipal spokesman said.

Following a case involving senior high school students making a pornographic video in the city during the year, Bukittinggi mayor Djufri has also banned the next celebration of Valentine's Day.

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