One might think that celebrating Christmas in Indonesia – the world’s most populous Muslim nation – can be a problem. Even though 90 percent of Indonesia’s 220 million people are followers of Islam, it does not mean that Christmas is not celebrated.
The biggest signs of Christmas (i.e. the traditions of the Western festive season), can be seen in the malls. Most of the major stores in the larger cities like Bandung have huge Christmas trees, and restaurants tend to put on some manner of Christmas fares.
For example, the big stores have had their Christmas decorations up for weeks in anticipation of cashing in on the season. Naturally, hotels and malls cater to visitors by erecting Christmas trees ornately decorated, and “Merry Christmas” signs. Shopping hours are extended, and the seasonal specials jump out of nowhere.
There is a Christmas tree in every mall, and a man dressed in a Santa Claus suit and a white beard can be seen giving out presents to the children. It is the same in the other cities like Jakarta, where all the major department stores join in on the festive season.
One of Compassion’s partner churches in Bandung is Immanuel Baptist Church. Christmas decorations have been in place since the first week of December. A plastic Christmas tree stands by the front entrance door to welcome all the visitors; its snow-like glitter and many small butterflies on the leaves delight the small children.
Yes, the church entrance had been decorated with an artificial Christmas trees replete with pristine snow-like glittery ornaments and small butterflies – standing unaffected by the boiling tropical heat.
Why butterflies? Because butterflies were made the Christmas theme of the church: “Be like butterflies!”
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The head pastor of the church chose this theme because:
“On this Christmas, I would like to challenge the congregation to learn from the butterflies, how they endure the metamorphosis process and become beautiful butterflies. It takes a real, serious effort.”
This small church of 150 people uses every effort and resource to bring Christmas alive within their church members. Christmas service involves many sponsored children in the performance and the decorating.
After the sermon, the Christmas child choir celebrates their anniversary as a part of the church ministry. They celebrate it by exchanging gifts, initiated by one of the alumni of Compassion’s sponsored children who led this child choir.
Her purpose was to allow many of the less fortunate children to be able to express their love through giving and receiving simple gifts.
Many of the choir children come from poor families who rarely receive gifts during Christmas. Many of the children, especially those who are not registered in the student center, might find this gift exchange activity as their only chance to have a gift at Christmas.
The rule is simple: Every child will bring a wrapped gift to be exchanged with someone in his or her group. The gift budget is 50 cents.
The gift exchange was announced three months earlier so the children could save for their gifts. This activity turned out to be a fun and laughter-filled moment. Everyone looks happy as they leave the church, with grins on their faces and Christmas gifts in their hands.
Eight-year-old Herliany, called Any, is the youngest singer in the child choir. From her sponsor, Any got some money as a Christmas gift, and she spent the Christmas gift money on one lovely green shirt for a more formal occasion, one white T-shirt for her daily activities, and a pair of a blue plastic shoes and plastic sandals.
“Plastic is the best kind to wear during this rainy season, because it is easily dried up, water resistant, and it’s cheap.”
She paid $1 each for her plastic shoes, leaving her enough money to buy the other two of her favorable clothes. She went to the local market with her mother and bargained for the stuff because they needed to report back to the church with an official receipt from the store. This is the agreement for every gift received by the children, as part of the integrity processes.
Any is hoping these clothes and shoes she bought will last long enough to be considered a reasonable investment with long-term use, as her family does not have the privilege to often buy luxurious things, clothes included.