The holiday season is supposed to be “the most wonderful time of the year” catching up with friends, gathering with family near and far and reflecting on the year that will soon come to a wrap. Every culture and community celebrate Christmas and this season in their own way embracing traditions, new and old alike.
Against the backdrop of festivities, there are a variety of communities in Malaysia that experience the season in their unique way. The tone of celebration varies as they define their own meaning of Christmas.
With the double whammy of extreme weather and the pandemic, Christmas is bound to be different this year. Still, there is light in the tunnel and there is hope for a better year ahead. Let’s take a look at how different communities in Malaysia make meaning of this season.
4-Star Christmas Meal for Orphans
The children from Peace Children Care Centre and Crystal Family Home were ushered into a fancy hotel for a Christmas buffet lunch. They were greeted warmly by a bear mascot before being seated and served. For younger children, the food is cut into smaller pieces by thoughtful waiters.
The lunch was organized by a group of four with no common association (NGO nor organization) other than their friendship and a shared goal to reach out to as many children as possible to make a difference tomorrow.
The group was initiated by lawyer Gerald Mak together with Datuk Annie Chin (Penang Women Chamber of Commerce president), Kevin Lee Lean Chye (global investor ), and Tan Chen Tat (real estate negotiator) at the start of the pandemic to provide aid to those in need, especially children. As time went by, they did more.
Not all the children from the orphanage are orphans, but had to be sent there because their single parents could not afford to raise them… These children have never been to hotels, let alone dined in one. – Gerald Mak, who initiated the charity group back in April 2020 (paraphrased).
The lunch venue and meal are sponsored by Hompton Hotel Penang, a 4-star hotel based in Tanjung Bungah. Also, present at the lunch as a guest of honour was Penang Chief Minister’s wife Tan Lean Kee.
Milk Powder for Sabah’s Rural Children
The hundreds of children in rural Sabah are greeted by a different kind of Santa Claus, one that sends milk powder instead of toys.
Through the Sabah Society of Hope, a total of 2,000 milk powder packs, 1,100 packets of soy milk drink, 2,675 pieces of children’s face masks, and 134 pencil cases were distributed to school-going children from low-income families in Keningau and Ranau area.
The distribution effort is headed by the society’s president Josephine Hadikusumo along with eight volunteers to around 1,000 students across 20 locations in five day. The aid exercise covered mainly rural churches, villages, and primary schools.
Milk powder could be a common item for urban dwellers where it can be found in a myriad of grocery stalls. It is not so the case for rural families where access to amenities itself can be a hurdle. According to Kg Sodomon village chief Megasin Radius, the milk powder provided relief for poor families who found it difficult to make ends meet.
The aid delivery effort is part of The Society of Hope’s ongoing Project HOPE: Milk & School Fund, where it most recently benefited 72 children from the village of Inanam, Sembulan, and Telipok Ria.
Celebrating with Fellow Villagers
Though Christmas has its root in religion, this does not prevent the residents of Kampung Darul Islam Belimbing from celebrating it with their Bidayuh-Muslim community. The village, some 70km away from Kuching, is populated by both Muslim and non-Muslim Bidayuh descents.
During festive seasons such as Christmas, different communities would come together to visit one another.
When we visit our fellow non-Muslim relatives or friends during festive seasons, we do not have to worry about food because they understand us well. In fact, every prayer time they will stop their activities to allow us to perform prayers – Durrani Bahrum, 54, Muslim resident.
According to Hussein Banyak, a village elder, mutual understanding, genuine acceptance, and respecting, differences were important to maintain interreligious harmony. It is this tolerance that allows the cultural diversity of Kampung Darul Islam Belimbing to shine.
Kampung Darul Islam Belimbing started with a 40-door longhouse. It now boast more than 150 houses with several non-Muslim families being among the occupants.
Silent Night For Pakistani Refugees
Christmas is quiet than usual for Joseph, Jessie, and their three children. Ever since they arrived in Malaysia after escaping Pakistan in 2014, the family has been celebrating Christmas with their church community. There are usually large gatherings organised by community members that the family look forward to, but the likelihood of it happening is low with Covid-19 SOP still in place.
This year, Christmas is almost silent because of Covid-19. There are no bells ringing anywhere this time around. – Joseph, residing with his family in Ampang.
The family is doing what they can to retain the festive cheer, putting up tree and deco, observing the advent season, and getting into the spirit. However, as money becomes tight for the family, there will be fewer gifts under the tree for the kids.
Johnson Albert, another Pakistani refugee, resonates the same sentiment. Johnson works as a security guard to support his wife and two sons in Plaza Indah, Kajang. He is one such community member that will organise a Christmas gathering every year, inviting his friends and family into their homes for prayers.
The younger children miss the festive atmosphere from Johnson’s seasonal gathering, but the SOP and his refugee status only allow him to do so much.
They keep coming to me and asking me to arrange for us all to go out, but I have to tell them that we can’t do that because of the SOPs, and there’s not really a lot we can do – Johnson.
The top of his Christmas wish list is to get a sponsor to resettle his family in somewhere like Canada or the US where they can rebuild their life, though knowing full well the pandemic has rendered it unlikely.
We pray that for everyone around the world and of all religions, this Christmas and the next brings peace, harmony and of course health. – Joseph, Jessie, and their family.
Explore Our Sources:
- Yeoh, R.(2021). Four friends bring the spirit of Christmas to orphanages. The Vibes. Link.
- Peace Children Care Centre. Thank you for Hompton Hotel invited our Peace Children Care Centre for Chrismas Meal in the Hotel. Facebook. Link.
- Vanar, M. (2021). Helping hand for the rural poor in the Christmas spirit. The Star. Link.
- Yap, S.H. (2021). The Society of Hope Sabah terus dengan misi kemanusiaan. Utusan Borneo Online. Link.
- Bernama. (2021). Bidayuh Muslim village in Sarawak reflects ‘Keluarga Malaysia’ concept. The Sun Daily. Link.
- Imran Ariff. (2020). A quiet Christmas is on the cards this year for Malaysia’s refugees. Free Malaysia Today. Link.