Christmas and New Year in Indonesia
How Indonesian Celebrate Christmas
Christmas is just a week away, and it’s time for the world to celebrate the holiday, including Indonesia. Although most people in Indonesia (about 85%) are Muslims, there are 10% of the population are Christians – that’s still about 20 million people! Indonesian Christians love to celebrate Christmas.
Usually, people in big cities like Jakarta, Bandung, Yogyakarta, and Surabaya celebrate Christmas by attending church services on Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day. Sometimes, there will be drama performance in Churches. Besides church, Christians who celebrate Christmas also gather themselves in family events, whether in one place or in a vacation trip.
Indonesian people and government is very tolerant contrary to what western media portrayed. If you ever go to the capital (Jakarta) on Christmas day, you’ll find many public buildings being featured with Christmas ornaments. In early December, huge Christmas trees with beautiful and colorful decorations can be found in most shopping malls in big cities all over the country. Most Indonesian television channels broadcast Christmas themed musical concerts. An annual Christmas celebration event, held by the Indonesian Government, is always broadcast by the state-owned television channel ‘TVRI’.
If you visit Indonesia while on Christmas holiday, you can express merry Christmas to fellow Indonesian who celebrates by saying ‘selamat natal’.
Unique Christmas Celebration in Various Places in Indonesia
Not just in cities, Indonesian people in other areas outside cities also celebrate Christmas with their own tradition and style. Javanese, Toraja, Manado, Flores, and many more, each year celebrating this holiday with unique ceremony.
Javanese people have their own version of Christmas tree with different ritual to celebrate it. They often blend Christmas ceremony with their traditional belief called Kejawen. They built the tree from simple things such as paper, woods, and other recycle materials.
Torajan people celebrated Christmas each year with their own language and traditional song. Usually they would wear their traditional dress in Church for Christmas Eve celebration. Near Christmas each year, the Toraja administration holds a culture and tourism festival named Lovely December. The festival begins early December and the peak of the event is always celebrated on December 26th with a procession called Lettoan. Lovely December consists of various events tourists can enjoy, such as carnivals, art performances, traditional ceremonies, handicraft exhibitions, and culinary delights.
Manado people built their national biggest Christmas tree to celebrate. The city of Manado itself is believed to be the capital city of Christians in Indonesia. Even though consists with Majority of Christians, the Manado people as the majority ethnic in North Sulawesi is very tolerant group, they also celebrated this religious holiday along with other religion follower or other ethnic. In Manado, both Christians and Muslims (and other religion followers too) wears Santa Claus costume and go down the street, gathering together to celebrate Christmas. Some of them also spread gifts to local kids.
In Papua, after mass or Christmas service, there is a tradition named Barapen or baking the stone, which is a pork cooking ritual. Papuans cook vegetables and pork on stone burned with wood. How they light fire is also very unique because they don’t use lighter, instead they swipe the wood continuously to produce heat powder into fire. The ritual also consists of traditional singing and dancing. In the end, they will together share the pork and each other’s stories.
Although the majority of the population is Hindu but religious tolerance in Bali is extraordinary. Balinese have their own way to celebrate Christmas, which is called Ngejot, an activity of giving gifts to the neighbors, especially non-Christians. The gifts usually is either pork meat or bat meat. The celebration of Christmas in the Bali area is not much decorated with Western culture, but more influenced by Hindu-Balinese culture.
If you visit Flores in December, be prepared to hear the sound of booming bamboo cannon that can damage your eardrum. Each year the tradition is held on Christmas Eve until New Year. Flores people like huge celebration. Besides that, there is also a competition called “Christmas Cage” to remind people that Jesus Christ was born in a cage filled with simplicity.
How Indonesians Celebrate New Year
Like Christmas, Indonesian people also celebrate New Year in unique ways. In Jakarta, most events usually held in front of the Government Center. A variety of performances and traditional arts will be showcased, such as puppet, lenong, traditional music or popular bands for the public to see.
Many location in big cities, such as mall, public park, and famous street also held New Year celebration in their own ways which always includes music and fireworks. New Year’s Eve in big cities sometimes accompanied with super busy street, especially between 7pm-12am. Since the city does not sleep on New Year’s Eve, Jakarta’s traffic police must work doubly hard, especially when the traffic volume increases drastically. To ensure a smooth traffic and prevent road accident, The Department of Transportation put a number of officers at points of congestion in the city. These officers are deployed to assist the Metro Traffic Polices who are stationed near to the locations of big parties.
If you happen to visit Indonesia while on New Year’s Eve, and want to involve yourself in street euphoria, join the people in the street while they light up fireworks and confetti.