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Christmas in Indonesia – Celebrations and Traditions

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The Church, especially the Catholic Church, obliges its people to celebrate Christmas. This celebration is not to be done by a big meal, it is not to be done by a big festival, but a happy celebration in the church.

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So the so-called Christmas celebration is the Christmas Mass, the Eucharistic celebration in commemoration of the birthday of Jesus Christ. Ancient people were born by not going to the civil registry to make birth certificates.

Thus, there is no such a thing as birth certificates at that time. Rarely is anyone taking note of the date of birth of a person.

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Similarly, this also happens to Jesus, no one knows exactly the date of his birth. What we know from the Gospel, that Jesus was born at the time of the census of the Roman Empire. Probably around the 7th century BC – 2SM.

At the time of the Roman Empire, December 25 was the day of the celebration of the sun god. Every festival is held to celebrate the festive celebration. At that time already many Romans who became followers of Christianity. However, many Christians at that time who celebrated the birth of the sun god angered The Fathers of the Church who see that the culture is not true.

Christians certainly can not celebrate the birth of the sun god the same as Romans do. To prevent Christians from coming to the festival of the sun, the Father of the Church at that time made his own celebration. December 25 is set as the birthday of Jesus Christ.

The Father of the Church invites Christians not to celebrate the day for the sun, but for the One who created the sun. Christians who originally came to the celebration of the sun festival, invited to the church to celebrate the Christmas celebration that is the birth of Jesus. Initially, the celebration of Christmas is celebrated in simple terms, but along with the increasing number of Christians, then Christmas celebration became much more festive.

Christmas Celebration in Indonesia

As a country with 17 million Christians and 7 million followers of Roman Catholicism, Christmas Day in Indonesia is celebrated with very different traditions in different regions. In areas with large Christian or Catholic populations, Christmas celebrations are colored with special rituals and local specialties.

In big cities, the shopping area is often decorated with plastic Christmas trees and Santa Claus. Meanwhile, in Bali, the celebration of Christmas is celebrated with a Christmas tree made of chicken feathers. The unique Christmas tree has been imported to many European countries.

Most local television stations during Christmas in Indonesia will broadcast Christmas music concerts. As well as annual national Christmas celebrations organized by the government. In addition to a variety of traditional foods, Christmas is generally complemented by homemade cake dishes.

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The Catholic Church simply obliges its people to celebrate Christmas by participating in the Eucharist in the church. The meal, the festival, the Santa Claus, the Christmas tree, is not something that is required by the church. They are part of the Christian tradition of Christianity.

Each place has a tradition of Christmas celebrations that vary depending on the culture of local people. In some countries, December 25 is designated a holiday. Because the day is a holiday, families can gather at home. Children living outside the city can go home, and meet other family members.

Usually, after attending Christmas Eve mass in the church, the family gather to eat together and share gifts. To add to the family gathering festivity, decorated the house with the lights, and the Christmas tree. In some places in Indonesia, Christmas is usually held by people. Each family brings home-made food, then eats the food available there.

The current Christmas celebration seems to have shifted from the real meaning of Christmas. The true meaning of Christmas commemorating the birthday of Jesus Christ has shifted into a mere holiday.

Christmas celebrations that should be celebrated by following the Eucharistic celebration in the church, seems to have shifted into the just family gathering, eating, and gifts.

The malls and shops put up a Christmas tree, put a picture of Santa Claus, without understanding the real meaning of Christmas. No mall makes a Christmas cave, a sheepfold, a statue of a baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the Angel and the shepherds;

However, that’s the real portrayal of Christmas. The Christmas-themed film is said to be about the ‘spirit of Christmas’ turned out to be only about the Santa Claus who lost his peers.

The ‘Spirit of Christmas’ which should have focused on the story of the birth of Jesus Christ, has shifted into a fat bearded man who climbed into a chimney. It seems that many people want to take advantage of the celebration of Christmas, without understanding the essence of the actual Christmas celebration.

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Development of Christmas in Indonesia

In addition, many people in Indonesia (about 88%) are Muslims, and about 11% of the population are Christians – that’s still about 21 million people of Indonesian Christians who love to celebrate Christmas. Indonesian Christians normally go to church services on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. They also use a unique type of tree that are made from animals feathers that are made by people in on Bali island

In most churches and cathedrals, people resurrect nativity ornaments and scenes and utilized them as part of the Nativity drama acting. These drama scenes have been utilized by many nations throughout the world. In Indonesia, the ornamental tree is usually man-made using polymer. However less widespread, some people have real life Pine trees to be ornamented as the special trees.

During early December, large Christmas trees with tremendous and shiny decorations can be detected in most public places in big cities all over the country. Popular Christmas songs in Indonesia include ‘Malam Kudus’ or an Indonesian version of ‘O Holy Night’ and ‘Malam Kudus’ or an Indonesian version of ‘Silent Night’. These songs are normally sung on Christmas Eve in churches by a group of choir while in the candle-light service when people contemplate about the real meaning of Christmas story.

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Many Indonesian television channels broadcast Christmas themed musical concerts. A festive Christmas celebration event, conducted by the Indonesian Government, is always broadcast live by many television channels.

In Indonesia, Santa Claus is widely well-known and is called Sinterklaas that is inherited from the dutch. Sinterklass brought gifts to children on Christmas Day and you also might saw him in shopping malls also. Exchanging gifts is normal among Christians in Indonesia.

Celebrations of Christmas in Indonesia

Not just a brightly ornate tree (or a Christmas tree made from), some areas in Indonesia have their own customs that are identical to the uniqueness of the area upon where they live. Another field, another grasshopper. Another sea, another fish.

The various Christmas celebrations held uniquely in the archipelago are not merely religious activities, but an acculturation process in which social processes arise when a group of people with a particular culture is confronted with elements of a foreign culture. Foreign culture is then gradually accepted and processed into its own culture without causing the loss of cultural elements of the group itself.

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As a result, the day of joy for Christians is not only the right moment to worship and share gifts, but also share love through various unique and exciting ways


Christmas is celebrated by various cultures and nationalities throughout the globe. Indonesia has a few unique traditions and methods of its own for celebrating this special day. The following are some ways Christmas is celebrated in provinces across the nation:

Jakarta Christmas Celebration

One of the northernmost areas of Jakarta has a unique way of celebrating Christmas. Tugu village in Cilincing North Jakarta is said to continue the tradition that was once done by its predecessors that are Portuguese who once reside there.

After the church worship and pilgrimage to the graves of loved ones, some people will visit other people’s homes with traditional music.  The inhabitants of each visited house must then follow the performers.

They will perform along with them resulting in a chain of performers in the streets up until the last house in the area. A fleeting tradition similar to the mood atmosphere of Eid is called “Rabo-rabo”, which is still preserved to this day. After mass, the community visits a graveyard next to their local church and then performs the Rabo-Rabo tradition, which entails playing keroncong music and dancing together while circling the area and visiting relatives and friends.

Families visited must join the entourage to then visit the next houses until the last house as a form of hospitality. At the end of the show, everyone will be bathed in colorful powder as a symbol of “Atonement and Mutual Forgiveness” at the end of the year that will pass.

The peak of the community’s celebration is the showering together tradition where people gather in the homes of their relatives and festively draw and paint on each other’s faces using white powder as a symbol of atonement and forgiveness for the upcoming New Year. They will begin the New Year with a clean slate.

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Papua Christmas Celebration

In Papua, after mass or Christmas service, a tradition of barapen or baking the stone, which is a pork cooking ritual to eating together. Papuans cook vegetables and pork on stone burned with wood. How to light a fire is also very unique because it does not use lighter, but swiping the wood continuously to produce heat powder into a fire.

Meanwhile, to prepare for the barapen ceremony, the men will make a hole to put the burning hot stone. Meanwhile, the women prepare leaves such as sweet potato, kale, ferns, cassava, spinach, and papaya.

Into the hole will be put pork and leaves that have been prepared, then closed the leaves, and lined with stone again.

This layer is arranged up to three levels for cooking pork for half a day. When the meat begins to cook, it will produce smoke and the smell of meat from the hole. Burning a rock or barapen is one of the gratitude, togetherness, sharing, and loving that is marked by eating pork in togetherness

Ambon Christmas Celebration

Prior to the celebration of Christmas and New Year, most of Ambon residents, especially those in Naku Country, South Leitimur District held a traditional ceremony of washing the country.

It symbolizes the cleansing and sanctification or liberation of the sin of citizens and the local environment.

The country washing ceremony begins by gathering at the house of the clan community to hold their own customary rituals.

Then, the residents gathered to the traditional house while singing the songs in the local language, dancing with the accompaniment of Tifa (traditional musical instruments), and women bringing in the form of betel, areca nut, and a traditional drink called sopi. Another thing that is typical of this area is on Christmas Eve will be the sounding of the siren ship and church bells simultaneously in rhythm.

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Jogjakarta Christmas Celebration

 Yogyakarta is a city that highly upholds traditional values. This is seen in various religious celebrations that are always associated with the richness of  Yogyakarta tradition itself, Christmas was no exception. 
In the area of Yogyakarta, the celebration of Christmas is colored with a wayang kulit show themed depicting the birth of Jesus Christ.

Celebrations of mass or worship in the Church are performed in delicate Javanese by priests or priestess wearing local customs. Just like the celebration of Eid, Christmas is filled with the event of visiting each other’s family and relatives

Some children will get envelopes containing money from the elders.

Manado Christmas Celebration

Different from various other areas, Manado already celebrate Christmas from December 1. So Christmas songs already reverberate in every place, ranging from malls, shops, roadside stalls, even until the public transport already plays of Christmas songs to let the atmosphere of joy in the air.

In addition, young people like in Manado will hold a parade of Santa Claus. So, they will dress up like Santa Claus, and after that Santa Claus will come to the homes to give gifts and advice to the children. This activity usually already exist from December 6 until early January.

The tradition of ‘Kunci Taon’ itself is usually held in a fitting Sunday in January, as well as closing the Christmas celebrations in December. Usually, there will be a parade around the city with funny costumes. Some residents of Manado have a habit of doing mobile parades, as well as visiting the tombs of relatives and cleaning it up.

Bali Christmas Celebration

Bali, the Island of the Gods is full of charm. Although the majority of the population is Hindu but religious tolerance in Bali is extraordinary.

The way to celebrate Christmas in Bali known as Ngejot that is giving gifts to the neighbors, especially non-Christians. The parcel is a traditional Balinese food such as lawar and pork satay

Most Christian villages are located in the southern part of Bali. The residents will wear traditional clothes and decorate the streets with penjor (bamboo-like leaves) symbolizing the Anantaboga dragon.

The celebration of Christmas in the Bali area is not much decorated with Western culture, but more influenced by Hindu-Balinese culture.

Toraja Christmas Celebration

Culture and Tourism Festival “Lovely December” is an annual event organized by the local government of Toraja. The festival is held as a part to welcome Christmas and New Year for Toraja people who are majority Christian. The festival has a variety of events, such as culinary exhibitions and regional crafts. There is also a traditional craft competition and bamboo craft degree.

The highlight of this festival is the fireworks and Lettoan procession held on 26 December. Lettoan is a ritual parading pig with cultural symbols representing the three dimensions of human life. The three symbols used are:

  1. Saritatolamban, in the form of a staircase that symbolizes prayer and hope for a better life.
  2.  The sun represents the light source of life.
  3.  The flower that symbolizes the success of life in Toraja people.

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North Sumatra Christmas Celebration

This tradition invites local people together to raise money to buy animals to sacrifice. The choice of animal species depends on the funds collected. Where the possibility of animals such as buffalo and cattle.

Christmas celebrated by the Batak tribe in North Sumatra by presenting animals purchased with money collected with the people nearby.

Tradition called Marbinda is done by slaughtering animals that symbolize togetherness and mutual cooperation.

The types of sacrificial animals offered can be pigs, oxen, or buffalo and the flesh will be distributed to all the citizens who have donated.

Flores Christmas Celebration

There is a month of December in the Flores City that the Pastoral Church will hold a competition to make “Kandang Natal”. This is to remind again that Jesus Christ was born in a cage filled with simplicity.

However, the fascinating Christmas celebration is the loud booming sound coming out of the bamboo

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.

However, this cannon also performed based on Mangarai culture as a sign of someone died. Usually done towards community leaders, so people in other places know about it.

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Conclusion

Christmas is a time for joy and to celebrate with loved ones. As well as Christmas in Indonesia, this is an important tradition for Christianity as they realize the full extent of their religion impacts towards their surrounding. Christmas is a celebration worldwide and you just can’t miss the vibe of Christmas reverberating in every city of Indonesia. The time of festive joy is widely welcomed as a chance to showcase each one distinctive culture towards Christmas celebration

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