Christmas in Indonesia

By Swathi Ramaswamy on Jan 08, 2019
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Christmas in Indonesia is locally known as Natal which is a Portuguese term for Christmas. Indonesia is considered to be one of the largest Muslim countries in the world, but there is no reason for them to not celebrate Western festivals, especially one as merry as Christmas. The malls and offices go through with the Christmas ornamentation as well and different corners are adorned with Sinterklaas and Christmas trees.

PC: Wikimedia Commons

They have different traditions throughout the country where each region celebrates the festival with their own ceremonies and local food. Keeping up with the festive spirit, the local tv channels air live telecast of annual Christmas celebrations by the Central Government and various rhythmic Christmas musicals.

• Be a part of the National Christmas Celebration

In Indonesia, the Ministry of Religious Affairs has been holding the National Christmas Celebration annually since 1993. Ever since this was always held in Jakarta at the Jakarta Convention Center until 2013. The newly elected president in 2014 changed this and began hosting this  Christmas celebration in Indonesia in different parts of the country.

Indonesia has its own methods of marking the celebrations for this special day in unique traditions that vary from place to place. Here are some interesting ways in which the whole country celebrates Christmas.

• Enjoy the Jakarta Christmas Celebration

The traditional Christmas festival in Indonesia is celebrated here for years, where the people go on a pilgrimage to visit the graves of their dead family members, after going to the church in the morning. They also visit people’s homes with traditional music playing and gather up people from the homes along the way. A kind of performer’s chain is formed, members of which sing and dance until every house in the area has been covered. At the end of this, they gather at their relative’s homes where a unique white powder paint is used to color everybody’s face. This is considered as a sign of penitence and clemency so that they can start their New Year without any past baggage.

• Marvel at the Papua Christmas Celebration

After mass, the people in Papua cook pork and vegetables on stone burned with wood and ate this meal together. This tradition is called barapen which means baking the stone. The exciting part of this ritual is that they do not use a conventional lighter for the fire; instead, they swipe the wood repeatedly to produce fire from the heated powder. The men make a hole to insert the red hot stone while the women prepare the vegetables to be added to the pork. This takes almost half a day to get cooked and is a symbol of gratitude and love that they want to share with their loved ones. So, when you are interested in unique Christmas events in Indonesia, this one is a must-visit. 

• Participate in Ambon Christmas Celebration

The people in Ambon hold a washing ceremony of the country prior to celebrating Christmas and New Year. This cleaning is a symbol of sanctifying or liberating the citizens of their sins. The people gather at the house of the clan community to begin this ceremony and sing and dance to the Tifa, which a traditional musical instrument. They have a classic drink called Sopi which they drink during the ceremony. On Christmas Eve in Indonesia, church bells and ship sirens will present a rhythmic melody for you.

• Enjoy the Yogyakarta Christmas Celebration

This is a city that highly upholds the traditional values in all the religious celebrations, including Christmas. The celebration of Christmas in this region involves a colorful puppet show called WayangKulit that depicts the whole scene of Jesus Christ’s birth. People go to churches for mass and then to a family member's house to wish each of them. Children even receive money in envelopes from their elders.

• Participate in the Manado Christmas Celebration

People here hold a parade of Santa Claus and enter the houses on their way to give gifts to the children along with advice. This generally starts from the first week of December and goes on till early January. The tradition of ‘KunciTaon’ is followed where the people dress up in funny costumes and parade around the city to mark the end of Christmas. They also visit the tombs of their loved ones and clean them right before Christmas. This will help you understand more about Indonesian Christmas. 

• Bali Christmas Celebration

Bali, also known as the Island of the Gods, has a majority Hindu population, but the religious tolerance here is astounding. They celebrate Christmas through a tradition known as Ngeojat where they present gifts such as traditional Balinese food like Lawar and satay to their neighbors. The villages located in the Southern part of Bali celebrate this festival by donning traditional costumes and decorating the streets with a type of leaf called penjor, which symbolizes the Anantaboga Dragon. The celebration here is restricted to Hindu-Balinese culture and has not been affected much by Western culture. Christmas in Bali is definitely an affair to remember! 

• Toraja Christmas Celebration

The local government of Taroja organizes an annual event known as ‘Lovely December’. This festival has a lot of exhibitions and crafts display and is a way to welcome Christmas and New Year for the people of Toraja. They also conduct a traditional craft competition at this festival. The fireworks and Lettoan procession held on 26th December are the highlights of this festival. Lettoan is a parade with symbols of the sun, the flower, and a form of staircase representing the three dimensions of life.

The Christmas festival in Indonesia is celebrated with a lot of enthusiasm and vigor. Being there at the time of Christmas as an exhilarating experience that can not be explained in words!

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