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Cover Story: Traditions Of Christmas

By Chris Teh & Joelyn Jonathan

‘Tis the season of the year again! Christmas trees are popping up in shops and restaurants and the big malls vie with one another to put up the biggest and the best. Christmas is just around the corner and in this issue, Ipoh Echo interviewed Ipohites who celebrate Christmas to explore what the festive day means to them and how different people celebrate what is essentially a religious event.

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

What Does Christmas Mean to Christians?

Senior Pastor of Canning Garden Methodist Church Ipoh, Rev Dr Andrew Tan defined Christmas as the birth of Jesus, who said, “The Son of God was born into our world to save us from our sin that separates us from God”.

Chairman of Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) Ipoh, Dato’ Daniel Tay said that Christmas is a time of celebrations, who explained, “More importantly, Christmas is a form of gratitude that my Saviour came. Because of that, I’m saved for eternity”.

Preacher of Revival Mission Ministries Ipoh, a church in Menglembu, Zechariah @ Zech Prince said that Christmas is the birth of Christ. “It’s not about just a celebration but it’s also a form of welcoming a king to this world”.

Parish Priest for Our Mother of Perpetual Help (OMPH) Catholic Church Ipoh, Rev Fr Patrick Massang also defined Christmas as the birth of Jesus. “It’s not only about that. We also advocate our church followers to spend more time with their families before going into their own activities,” he mentioned.

Traditions and Activities

“Our church has a Christmas carol and candlelight service every Christmas Eve at 10pm and a morning service at 10am to celebrate the birth of Christ,” Rev Andrew stated. “These practices are to remember that God fulfilled His promise by sending His Messiah to save us.”

“Ever since my primary school days, my parents would bring the whole family together to celebrate Christmas in one of the hotels at Pangkor Island,” Dato Daniel said. “This practice continued even after my siblings and I got married and have our own families.”

“Christmas is perhaps the only time of year that all my family members gather together,” he added. “We do not even do this during Chinese New Year.”

Revival Mission Ministries will be having their Christmas celebration on December 22.

“Every year during this festive season, we help the poor,” Zechariah said. “The church will organise open-for-public Christmas celebrations and we take this opportunity to bless the poor and simultaneously make them realise the true meaning of this season.”

For OMPH Catholic Church, Fr Patrick said that the church has been preparing for Christmas in a 4-week-long “Advent”.

“‘Advent’ is a way for us to get into the Christmas festive mood while also making the holiday more meaningful,” he explained. “In this period of time, we highly recommend followers to perform good deeds, such as attending masses and donating to charities.”

OMPH Church will also be having its debut “Christmas Carnival” on December 20 at 6pm to 10pm, open to the public.

“The three main parishes of churches around town which are OMPH Church, St Michael’s Church (next to SMJK Sam Tet) and Church of Our Lady of Lourdes, Silibin, will gather at OMPH Church for the carnival,” Fr Patrick highlighted.

Speaking about traditions of Christmas, he explained, “We have a night mass every Christmas Eve. A few days before the mass, we will have a Christmas carolling session.”

Swiss by birth but Perakean by choice, Peter Bucher, aka Pak Peter, who coordinates and manages Sharpened Word, an interactive platform focusing on the arts and culture scene in Ipoh, stated that he no longer celebrates Christmas much in recent years.

“I celebrated Christmas while in Switzerland back in the days before I started working in the hospitality line. After that, every Christmas is work and work because a lot goes on during the holiday season,” he highlighted. “After my retirement, the only tradition that I still go to without failing is the night mass every Christmas Eve.”

Twenty-four-year-old Ipohite David Seow sees Christmas as an important celebration for his family.

“My parents relocated to work and reside in Indonesia. Since I left my home in Ipoh, I had gone back almost every year to celebrate with them and my siblings,” he explained.

“After my community celebration of Christmas by having candlelight service and Christmas carolling as the sun sets on Christmas Eve, my family and I usually go back home afterwards to read Christmas stories as found in the Book of Luke before watching a Christmas-themed movie together,” David added. “At midnight, we will choose one present to open. We save the remaining presents until Christmas morning itself!”

For Ipohite Felicia Alexis who loves Christmas songs, the festive season is supposed to be a season of giving.

“It’s not about exchanging gifts or anything materialistic, but rather cheers to the unfortunate individuals or spending time with senior citizens at the old folks’ home, for instance,” she stated. “In my opinion, individuals who do not know the true meaning behind the celebration of Christmas will think of it as just another holiday.”

“While my family and I gather together to have Christmas potluck dinner or decorate the house for the big day, I usually play some Christmas CDs to put myself in the mood of celebration,” Felicia added. “If one listens to those songs carefully and understand the lyrics, they actually tell a Christmas story.”

Coming from a generation that celebrates Christmas to the fullest, Sara Fernandez felt that Christmas is definitely the most wonderful time of every year.

“This is the time where my family members come back home from afar to celebrate the season with a home-cooked meal, either breakfast, lunch or dinner,” she elaborated. “We usually pull some crackers to add on to the cheer, followed by opening the presents thereafter.”

“I love having traditional Christmas food such as roast turkey with cranberry sauce and Brussel sprouts and Christmas pudding as a dessert,” Sara opined. “It’s of course not only about the food. Receiving gifts, decorating the house with all sorts of ornaments and lights are equally as enjoyable too.”

“If only Malaysia snows, that would hit the jackpot!” she quipped.

Kelvin Pappu John, a 20-year-old student from Politeknik Ungku Omar celebrates by spending time with his family.

“We start by decorating the house with ornamental lights and decorations early December, followed by our church celebration of Christmas,” he said. “Also, we visit relatives and celebrate with them at their houses too.”

Non-Christians

‘A Christmas Carol’, a story revolving around Ebenezer Scrooge who was mean to people around him but was taught to be kind at the end thanks to the ghosts of Christmas and his business partner, Jacob Marley, resounds in the minds of our very own Colonel Fathol Zaman Bukhari.

“I felt that the story really has the elements to share the importance of doing good and be kind to other people,” he said. “Any festivity should be about giving back to the community.”

“Other than that, I really love Christmas food like roast turkey and baked pie,” Colonel Fathol added.

Twenty-eight-year-old Ipohite Tan Mei Kuan felt that Christmas is an ideal opportunity for everyone to gather with family and friends since the festive season coincides with the year-end school holidays.

“Living in a food paradise, we have the chance to taste traditional Christmas dishes such as roast turkey and Yule log cake, so that everyone could join in the fun,” she said. “Besides that, I love the fact that everyday products have special limited edition Christmas-themed packaging and malls roll out their lavish festive decorations, plenty of year-end sales and promotions. Did I mention the TV reruns of holiday movies like Home Alone and The Polar Express?”

Another Ipoh girl Chong Jo Lynn, despite not being a Christian, celebrates Christmas with her family quite majorly.

“Whenever Christmas is around the corner, I will gather with my family members to spend some quality time together. We usually go to cool places such as Cameron Highlands or Fraser’s Hill to feel as if we are also celebrating Christmas in winter too,” the 17-year-old explained.

“Apart from that, my mother also bakes Christmas goods like the Gingerbread cookies and Yule log cakes to share with family and friends,” Jo Lynn added. “Roast turkey is included too and she always invites people over to have a meal and catch up over a good and casual-natured conversation.”

‘We the Rakyat’ founder, Ipoh-boy Darren Lee Yeu Jyn who is currently residing in Melbourne, Australia, told Ipoh Echo that one will see crowded beaches and surfers instead of groups of carolers wandering the neighbourhood during the Christmas season.

“For a typical Australian Christmas, one will also see the Australians packing up the Esky (brand name for a cooler box in Australia) for a picnic or barbecuing prawns – as they call it in their cliché Australian slang, ‘put another shrimp on the barbie’,” he remarked in jest.

“Although my family and I don’t usually celebrate Christmas in Malaysia, whenever I come back, we will indulge ourselves in European cuisine. So, Christmas to us has also always been food and gathering too,” Darren added.

Commercialised Christmas

Many agree that Christmas has become too materialistic and increasingly abandoning the true meaning behind the celebration of the festive season.

“There’s too little about Christ’s birth,” Rev Andrew opined. “Modern-day Christmas traditions are indeed commercialised and focused more on partying.”

Fr Patrick has a similar sentiment that Christmas is getting more and more commercialised. “This is why I strongly advocate my followers to find time in their own way to spend with their families, especially after the night mass every Christmas Eve.”

“It’s not about how one celebrates the season but how much does one know about the true meaning behind Christmas,” Zechariah said. “Individual preferences do matter of course, but every follower of the Christian faith should know the core meaning of the season before doing anything.”

Mary Anne Lalitha, 33, opined that people around her have forgotten the real meaning of Christmas.

“They are celebrating Santa Claus, which has nothing to do with Christmas!” she expressed.

“Modern Christmas celebrations seem very materialistic in comparison to what the festive season is truly about,” David opined. “It is true that part of the celebration is about giving and it is rewarding to be able to give thoughtful presents to the people you care about.”

“Sometimes there is so much pressure to find the ‘perfect’ gift, what is meant to be a season of thankfulness and to spend time together becomes stressful and overwhelming,” he lamented.

“For someone like me who is involved in church activities, it is easy to get swept up with events and festivities that sometimes, the sight of the real reason for the celebration can be lost,” David remarked.

“As the years go by, time changes many things, including people. They grow, they change and traditional practices can never escape that fact,” Sara highlighted. “I believe each and every family has their own Christmas rituals. Some stick to the old tradition and some revise them by celebrating it differently.

“To me, no matter how Christmas traditions change, for better or worse, the one thing that never changes is the love for family that surrounds us and every beautiful moment is captivating. We must cherish them,” she further remarked.

In short, Christmas is never only about exchanging gifts or partying. From the birth of Jesus Christ to bringing joy to other people, the season is definitely not short of meaningful traditions and festivities that will undoubtedly leave an everlasting impression on anyone. For Christmas this year, let’s celebrate differently by reaching out to communities that deserve our attention and care!

Ipoh Echo wishes our loyal readers a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Enjoy your holidays!

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Chris Teh

Born and bred in Ipoh, Chris Teh is proficient in Chinese, English and Malay, with the Japanese language in the making. Joining Ipoh Echo has helped utilise his writing and translation skills. In his spare time, he catches Pokemon in Pokemon GO, discovering up and coming places on the side.

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