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Christmas in Indonesia

Is it hard to envision Christmas in the tropics? It was for me when we first moved to Indonesia in 1998. I didn’t even bring a Christmas tree in our shipment. Maybe I thought we’d just use a banana tree! I learned, though, that Indonesian Christians LOVE to celebrate Christmas as much as we do in America, they just do it with a tropical flare.

Our first assignment with MAF was to the province of Kalimantan. As we adjusted to the culture, we learned that in Indonesia, big holiday events always involve food and a lot of guests! In America we generally gather with family during Christmas, but in Indonesia, people open their homes to bands of visitors who drop by to sample the ample spread of food (such as rice, an Indonesian soup called Soto, fruit, cakes, and sodas), and chat before moving on to the next house. You can end up quite full if you don’t pace yourself! One Christmas we tried hosting our own open house, and it was an interesting experience as even neighbors we hardly knew dropped by!

Pondok in Papua Indonesia
A Papuan Christmas Pondok. Photo by Melanie Sigrist.

A year ago we moved to the province of Papua in early December. We soon learned one of the Christmas traditions unique to Papua, as we were startled awake early each morning by Christmas songs blaring into our windows. Each December the Papuans construct “pondoks” (pone-dokes), or small stands by the side of the road, featuring large speakers and glittery decorations. They play everything from Christmas carols, to reggae, and even some Mariah Carey! Because Papua is known as a Christian province in Indonesia, perhaps they tend to see Christmas time as their chance to battle the noise of the mosques that are heard the rest of the year through. Oh well, at least it’s Christmas music––mostly! Did I mention that we sleep with earplugs?

Now can you envision Christmas in the tropics? Whether you find yourself being roused by Christmas music in Papua, or waking up to a bright blanket of snow, let’s challenge ourselves to be centered on the simple truth of Christmas––that “the Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14a, the Message). Merry Christmas!


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