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Christmas is one of most celebrated religious holidays in Indonesia, after Eid al-Fitr, the Islamic religious celebration. In big cities and areas with majority Christian communities, the spirit of Christmas celebrations can be seen and felt everywhere; houses and malls are adorned with Christmas decorations. Christmas songs, especially “Malam Kudus” or “Silent Night,” are sung and played in the malls, on radios, and on television. There are also Christmas songs live on stage in several malls. Just like Christmas celebration tradition all over the world, “Sinterklas” or “Santa Claus,” dressed in red and white becomes an essential part of the celebration in Indonesia.
The month of December is not only associated with a religious event, but also family togetherness as it coincides with school holidays. It is also the time of the year when businesses offer a lot of clearance and discounted items. Families enjoy their outings and the festivity and, of course, shopping.
When Christmas time is fast approaching, Indonesians start to feel the pinch of their daily expenses as food prices skyrocket, especially the price of red chili peppers. Interestingly, the scarcity of red chili peppers, at times, becomes a national food crisis that requires government intervention. The reason is that a lot of Indonesian cuisine uses chili peppers as the main ingredient — the spicier, the better.
Christmas time is also considered a very important time for Indonesia, to send a message to the nation that the country still upholds the principle of inter-religious harmony or religious tolerance as the Indonesian way of life. It is a time to express that Indonesia, as a pluralistic country, is united. The president and vice president and their wives, who are Muslim, usually attend a Christmas celebration in one of the Christian communities in the country. This year, in 2014, the Majelis Ulama Indonesia, the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), through its chairman, also openly wish Christians in Indonesia a Merry Christmas to promote unity and religious freedom, even though this goes against the beliefs of Muslim conservatives, who claim that giving a Christmas greeting is haram (religiously forbidden).
Those who do not know Indonesia might be surprised that Christmas is celebrated in the country. It is quite understandable as Indonesia often misconceived as an Islamic state instead of the country with the largest Muslim population in the world. Even though Muslims officially account for around 88 percent of the population of 252 million, religious freedom is guaranteed by constitution, the UUD 1945. Among the religious minority in Indonesia, Christians are the largest group, making up approximately 8.8 percent of the population. Protestantism and Catholicism are among the six officially recognized religions, along with Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism. All of these religions’ major religious holidays are national holidays.
In Indonesia Christmas is celebrated in a unique cultural way:
Selamat Hari Natal dan Tahun Baru 2015 — Merry Christmas and Happy New Year 2015.
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