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Celebrating Christmas In Malaysia

Selamat Hari Krismas—Christmas In Malaysia

Christmas in Malaysia means Santa Claus in the shopping malls, midnight feasts on Christmas Eve, and fireworks.

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.

Perhaps the strangest thing about Christmas in Kuala Lumpur is the big Christmas Eve buffets offered at hotels around the city. These are elaborate feasts, with turkey, roast beef and all the trimmings, local specialties, and a fantastic selection of desserts. That’s not the strange part.

What is unexpected are the party favors and the New Year’s Eve-style countdown to midnight and the official start of Christmas Day. There are dances, visits by Santa, and Christmas skits (again, secular). At midnight, fireworks erupt. Malaysians love their fireworks, and almost every holiday is celebrated by a display of them, but we had never before considered Christmas a fireworks kind of day!

Wendy Justice

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