Celebrating Christmas In Malaysia

Selamat Hari Krismas—Christmas In Malaysia

Dec. 22, 2014, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Christmas in Malaysia means Santa Claus in the shopping malls, midnight feasts on Christmas Eve, and fireworks.

Dear Live and Invest Overseas Reader,

Malaysia has only a minority population of Christians, so it came as a surprise to us our first year in the country to discover what a presence Christmas has here. Kuala Lumpur is especially festive. Streets are decorated with banners with holly leaves and the greeting "Selamat Hari Krismas" ("Wishing You a Happy Christmas").

Santa Claus is in the shopping malls, attracting large and diverse crowds, and we've seen women from the Middle East, wearing full-face veils, posing for pictures with their children alongside him and Mrs. Claus. The malls all have elaborate Christmas displays with gingerbread houses and massive Christmas trees with all the trimmings. Some of the decorations are a bit odd—giant mushrooms, for example, or suggestive, scantily clad angels—giving the impression that folks here aren't quite sure just what Christmas should be. 

What is absent in all the displays is any suggestion of the religious significance of the day. To the Malaysians, Christmas is just another holiday to celebrate after a long season of holidays: Ramadan and Hari Raya (both Islamic), the Islamic New Year, the (Chinese) Mooncake Festival, Deepavali (Hindu), school holidays...and Christmas. Shops use it as an excuse for giant end-of-year sales, and the malls are busy. 

Christmas is a legal holiday in Malaysia, although most stores and restaurants stay open. Many of the Christian Chinese and Indian families hold open houses to celebrate the day with friends and family and go to church. 

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Christmas Traditions In Thailand

Let It Snow

Dec. 21, 2014, Panama City, Panama: Paul Terhorst celebrates Christmas in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Dear Live and Invest Overseas Reader,

"Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow." The song reminds us of Christmas, yet snow comes only in the north. Most of the world has never seen snow. Most of the world listens to "Frosty the Snowman" without the slightest idea what the song is about.

Vicki and I will celebrate Christmas this year in Chiang Mai, Thailand, with a small group of American and Thai friends. Thais, Westerners, and others, mainly Chinese, will enjoy the party even though Thais lack a Christmas tradition and snow.

When Vicki and I first started coming to Chiang Mai, back in the 1980s, Thais would hang "Merry Christmas" and "Happy New Year" signs on restaurants and guesthouses. The signs looked so pretty many Thais left them up year round. Thailand remains mostly Buddhist, without a Christmas holiday. But they care a lot about pretty decorations.

One year the owner of our guesthouse even stuck cotton in his palm trees. "Snow," he told me.

This year Christmas started in earnest in early November, right after the Loi Krathong festival. During Loi Krathong, Thais make hand-size floats (krathongs) and push them into the river, with a candle and perhaps money stuck inside. Sending the float downriver is seen as sending troubles away. Similarly, on Loi Krathong, Thais send up 3-foot-tall hot-air sky lanterns to lift troubles from their shoulders.

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Rental Investment At River Club, Carmelita Gardens, Cayo, Belize

How To Earn A Solid Rental Yield In Our Favorite Off-Grid Part Of The World

Dec. 19, 2014, Cayo, Belize: The River Club is a rental yield investment opportunity at Carmelita Gardens in Cayo, Belize.

Dear Live and Invest Overseas Reader,

During a two-week vacation in Belize this past summer, I was bewildered by the dearth of midlevel options for hotels and restaurants in this country's Cayo District. You can find hotels in Cayo that qualify as low-end budget (charging US$50 to US$70 a night), and you can find high-end jungle resorts (charging US$200 to as much as US$500 a night, depending on the season). But if you're looking for something in between, currently you have but one good option (the San Ignacio Hotel).

This market gap has been noticed by local entrepreneurs, and some are taking steps to fill it. Specifically, Phil Hahn, the developer at Carmelita Gardens, has focused on the growing middle-range tourist market in conceiving his latest turn-key rental investment opportunity: The River Club.

Phil has designed an area along the river of his Carmelita Gardens community where he is going to build 20 resort-style residence units. After considerable research and planning, Phil has hit upon the combination of total units, size and configuration of units, amenities, and pricing that seems just right for the market he's targeting. 

Three types of units are available, all designed for comfort and rentability. While you could live in one of these cottages, suites, or studios, they were conceived, again, with the short-term renter in mind rather than the full-time resident.

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Christmas Traditions On Ambergris Caye, Belize

Caribbean Christmas

Dec. 18, 2014, Ambergris Caye, Belize: On Ambergris Caye, Belize, Christmas is celebrated with the annual San Pedro Christmas Boat Parade.

Dear Live and Invest Overseas Reader,

For those of us who grew up in snow country, it seems odd to be walking around in T-shirts and flip-flops on Christmas Day, but, having lived here on Ambergris Caye for seven years now, I've come to appreciate that Belize offers a unique collection of blended Christmas traditions. Home to more than 10 different ethnic groups, this country boasts the most multicultural holiday celebrations I can imagine.

First and foremost, Christmas in Belize is about spending quality time with family and friends. Government offices, banks, and most non-tourism-oriented businesses shut down for the week surrounding Christmas Day. Festivities and family time continue through Boxing Day (Dec. 26) at least, a throwback to Belize's days as a British colony.

One important Christmas tradition, remembered throughout Belize, is to spiff up the interior of your home. This is a Belizean's way of inviting the Christmas spirit. One Belizean friend told me not to judge a local's home by the exterior this time of year. It's what's inside that counts come holiday time. She explained that everyone brings out their gold, red, and green curtains, tablecloths, etc.

And, in preparation for all the holiday visiting, Belizeans don't just decorate the insides of their homes this time of year; they give them a facelift, too. They repaint the walls, hang new drapes, even replace the linoleum. This is the Belizean version of spring cleaning, and the entire family pitches in.

Many Belizeans put up Christmas trees, but typically the synthetic version. Those who can afford it decorate the outsides of their homes, too, with elaborate lights. Blow-up Santas, reindeer, lobsters, and manger scenes are especially popular. In San Pedro Town, where we live, The San Pedro Sunleads an annual tour to vote for the best decorated house.

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Celebrating The Festival Of Lights And Christmas In Medellin

Christmas In Medellin

Dec. 17, 2014, Medellin, Colombia: Medellin’s annual Festival Of Lights is the best time of year to visit this beautiful city.

Dear Live and Invest Overseas Reader,

I've been spending Christmas abroad since 2001 and have come to love the traditions and celebrations that take place throughout Latin America. But Christmas in Medellin is the most impressive extravaganza I've experienced. 

My first half-dozen Christmases overseas were in Ecuador and were the most enjoyable Christmas experience I'd had in many years, probably since childhood. My home city of Cuenca was not exactly a small town, but celebrating Christmas there certainly had a small-town feel. It was the first time I'd experienced all the events, parties, camaraderie, and celebrations of Christmas without the Black Friday woes, gift-buying frenzy, and deluge of forecasts for the economic outcome of the Christmas season. 

In Uruguay, Christmas occurs in midsummer and is the unofficial kickoff for the beach season. Punta del Este, which is a world-famous beach resort, was probably the least Christmassy place I've been. Everyone's focus was on sun, sand, and barbecue. The professional fireworks that every home seemed to have, however, were impressive...especially at New Year's, when gunpowder hung in the air like a thick fog.

Here in Medellin, things are different. There's a full agenda of exhibits, cultural exhibitions, shows, and celebrations. But what sets the city apart this time of year are the lights. 

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Kathleen Peddicord

Kathleen Peddicord is the founder of the Live and Invest Overseas publishing group. With more than 25 years experience covering this beat, Kathleen reports daily on current opportunities for living, retiring, and investing overseas in her free e-letter.

Her book, How To Retire Overseas—Everything You Need To Know To Live Well Abroad For Less, was recently released by Penguin Books.

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