Unique Indonesian Traditions for Celebrating Christmas

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  • TEMPO.CO, Jakarta

    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:

    1. Rabo-Rabo in Jakarta

    In Jakarta, there is an area named Kampung Tugu that is known as a place where Indonesians with Portuguese descendants reside. Kampung Tugu has a unique tradition for celebrating Christmas.

    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. The inhabitants of each visited house must then follow the performers and perform along with them resulting in a chain of performers in the streets up until the last house in the area.

    The peak of the community’s celebration is the mandi-mandi 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.

    2. Wayang kulit in Yogyakarta

    In Yogyakarta, Christmas celebrations are rife with traditions. The priest or pastor usually leads mass wearing traditional beskap suits and blangkon hats while speaking in soft Javanese, complete with a wayang kulit (shadow puppet) performance named “The Birth of Christ”.

    People also have a tradition of visiting relatives’ homes, similar to Eid Al Fitr, and children sometimes receive money from their elders.

    3. Marbinda in North Sumatra

    The Batak community in North Sumatra has a tradition they call Marbinda, which is sacrificing an animal together on Christmas day. The sacrificed animal is a product of people chipping in to purchase the animal months before Christmas. If many chip in, they usually sacrifice a buffalo yet if only a few chip in, they will only sacrifice a pig. The meat will then be divided among those who chipped in to purchase the animal

    4. Kunci Taon in Manado

    In Manado, North Sulawesi, Christmas celebrations begin on December 1 with pre-Christmas practices done up until Christmas day.

    Many also have the tradition of visiting the graves of their loved ones, usually after Christmas but before New Year’s Eve, and having a picnic at the graveyard. During these days, graveyards are often cleaned up and decorated with lights and ornaments to give a more festive feel of the holidays.

    Christmas celebrations continue until the first Sunday in January, where it ends with the kunci taon tradition where the community parades the streets and villages in cute and entertaining costumes

    5. The Sounds of Christmas in Ambon, Flores and Papua

    In Flores, Christmas is often associated with bamboo cannons that are fired at almost every corner of the city on Christmas Eve. Youngsters usually stay up the whole night on December 24 while playing fireworks.

    In Ambon, sirens of ships and church bells can be heard throughout the city on Christmas Eve. This moment is usually accompanied by family gatherings.

    Another unique tradition is in Papua where the people have the tradition of holding a barapen, or stone burning, party. This is a local culinary ritual for cooking pig meat as a part of celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. Aside from that, many areas are decorated with Christmas ornaments complete with Christmas songs played for 24-hours

    6. Penjor in Bali

    Christians in Bali usually celebrate Christmas by wearing traditional clothing from their respective regions, such as kebaya, sashes, and kamen fabric in black in white. During Christmas day, church complexes are decorated with bamboos and janur, which is a distinctive ornament in Bali known as Penjor

    7. Lovely December in Toraja

    Near Christmas each year, the Toraja administration holds a culture and tourism festival named Lovely December. The festival begins early December and the peak of the event is always celebrated on December 26 with a procession called lettoan.

    Lovely December consists of various events tourists can enjoy, such as carnivals, art performances, traditional ceremonies, handicraft exhibitions, and culinary delights.