Celebrating the Holidays in Indonesia - Christmas, Thanksgiving, and New Year's
Here we are, expats in a foreign land, far from home and facing the holiday season. Since not everyone can take a trip home for the holidays, we need to think about how we can celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Years in Indonesia.
Recreating the Holidays
Most families follow one of two approaches. They try to recreate Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's, and other familiar holiday celebrations as close as they can to what they experienced back home. Or, they may choose to create new holiday traditions for their families during their stay in Indonesia.
Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November in the U.S. and on the second Monday of October in Canada. Those celebrations are normally mirrored in Indonesia by Canadian and American expats through special events of business associations, women's groups or family and friends that will be gathering for the special feast. Many hotels prepare special holiday menus for the expat community that also appeal to Indonesians who may have spent time living overseas.
Yes, Christmas is celebrated in Indonesia, both the expat community and Indonesian Christians alike. The celebrations differ depending on which island you're living on, with, of course, more activities/celebrations in Christian areas, like Manado.
Most of the western-oriented supermarket chains stock turkeys, cranberry sauce, and other necessary ingredients that typically adorn the holiday table. However, of course, you can expect to pay higher prices compared to the prices that you are used to at home. Sometimes these stores have limited stock so it is best to buy items when you see them as they may not be available on your next shopping trip.
Planning a typical Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner may take visits to three or four different supermarkets in order to get all the ingredients, if you don't luck out and find a supermarket that carries them all at the same time. This can create major problems if you have left your grocery shopping to last minute!
Pine trees can be purchased at larger road-side nurseries. Normally in front of RRI in Senayan, and other major road-side nurseries near expat-favored communities, there is a good selection, as well as many Poinsettia plants. An artificial Christmas tree can also be purchased in major department stores and malls. A wide selection of modern Christmas cards and western-style Christmas decorations can be found at major department stores. supermarkets, and hypermarkets, ACE Hardware, and at Mangga Dua. The Christmas bazaars also offer a lot of local handmade decorations which appeal to expat's tastes and combine unique holiday themes with an Indonesian twist.
The expatriate community organizes many holiday activities for their members such as holiday teas and Christmas caroling evenings, as well as charity functions that benefit some of the less fortunate in the city. The larger women’s groups organize Christmas bazaars that usually take place in late October and early to mid-November. This gives expats a chance to shop for Christmas presents before holiday home leave as well as assist the groups to raise funds to be donated to charity.
What are holiday traditions?
We don't have to limit ourselves to customs and traditions from home. A big part of the expat experience, for those you are interested, is enjoying the customs and traditions of other nationalities within the expatriate community.
Parents can recreate Christmas traditions that are important to them, which they remember from their childhood, so that their children can experience the memorable customs. Even though Indonesians are predominantly Muslim, Christmas is recognized as a national holiday. You'll find that it is not as commercialized as it is in western societies. This allows parents an opportunity to perhaps stress the more important aspects of the season which are sometimes forgotten in the bombardment of holiday advertising in the west. It may take more of an effort on the part of the parent to plan and organize events; however the end result may have a deeper meaning to the entire family.
Many expats also opt for new and different ways to celebrate the holidays during their stay in Indonesia. They can be anything, from something you've done every year since you were a small child - to new customs and practices. A tradition is simply something that you did last year, want to do again this year and plan to do again in the future. It doesn't take long for something new to become a family tradition.
Think about different types of holiday traditions that can be celebrated with your family in Indonesia. Travel within Indonesia is an obvious choice. Instead of the usual skiing vacation, your Christmases in Indonesia could be associated with an annual family trip to Pulau Seribu or perhaps to Puncak if you want to be in a cooler climate and have a fire in the fireplace. Some of the higher elevations in Indonesia can actually get quite chilly in the evening and especially so if it is raining.
One of the Christmas traditions we started with our small children many years ago was the ride in an andong to Senayan to buy a live Christmas tree. It's something they always look forward to - and it's become a tradition in our family. The pine tree still has roots, so after the holidays we can plant it in the front yard and watch our Christmas trees from past years grow throughout our stay.
Make giving a part of your Indonesian holiday celebrations
There are scores of needy organizations that can use charitable donations. Contact your women's group, church or other community organization to give away items that you no longer want or use. Or you may choose to organize a special drive or donation in commemoration of the holidays on your own. It is a great way to clear out your closets prior to the holiday season. It can be an enlightening experience for expat children to go to an orphanage and hand deliver gifts or donations. This visit can help to put their relative prosperity and expectations into perspective.
Introduce your staff to your holiday traditions. Gifts under the tree or filled stockings on Christmas morn for the household staff or an office Christmas party with a gift exchange are always welcomed by your staff. Just as you show interest in Indonesian cultural traditions, your staff will be interested in yours as well!
Missing family during the holidays
A big adjustment for most expats in Indonesia is not being able to celebrate the holidays with the extended family. Consider having family members travel to Indonesia. You could travel domestically and spend the holidays together in Bali - what a memorable Christmas that will be for all of you! Since December falls in the rainy season, the weather is not as hot as it can be during the summer months, however is still a nice warm break for those coming from a chilly northern winter climate.
Instead of being sad about not spending the holidays with your family - do what you can to stay in close touch with them. Send greeting cards, schedule a special family Skype, Facebook chat or online video session on the Internet, call family members, post messages on social media sites, and send gifts. Your family will appreciate the extra effort you make to stay in touch.
Sending holiday greetings to family and friends at home can also benefit local charities. Community groups such as Unicef create holiday greeting cards with an Indonesian flair and the proceeds go towards the charity. Many other companies offer online cards which are very economical (no postage charges) as well as have faster delivery for those of us who tend to procrastinate in getting Christmas cards sent.
Your overseas family and friends will be interested to see how you're celebrating the holidays in Indonesia and you can keep everyone up to date with what’s happening with your life overseas through social media sites.
Celebrating with the expat community in Jakarta
Look around at your circle of friends in Indonesia and make a new 'family gathering' to celebrate the holidays. Part of our traditional Christmas celebration, for many years now, has been the gathering of the families in our play group. The moms organize special games with a Christmas theme for the kids, fix a great potluck lunch with turkey and all the trimmings and Father Christmas makes his appearance with gifts for the kids. Because the families are from six different countries, our traditional Christmas party includes a piñata from Mexico, holiday crackers from England, an American turkey dinner, stockings for the kids, and traditional Irish and Swiss dishes. This annual event has become an important Christmas tradition for our children.
Business and community organizations plan numerous activities and functions to help their members and the expat community in general get into the holiday spirit. Christmas bazaars certainly whet our shopping urges. Special lunches and teas with friends, progressive dinners, pictures with Santa, gift exchanges, Christmas parties, special musical performances and many other activities are held each year. Both ANZA and BWA usually organize children's Christmas parties for their members' children.
Religious services are not forgotten as all the major foreign-language Christian worship services hold special Christmas celebrations that are open to the public. Check with the churches and others in the community as well as the Expat Forum to find out about when the foreign-language services will take place.
Hotels and restaurants in Jakarta put on delicious meals to celebrate the holidays and offer sumptuous turkey buffets for Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday treats in their bakeries throughout the holiday season. Many offer the option of cooking your holiday meal for you and delivering it to you “ready to eat” to your home, eliminating the need for a busy hostess to cook at all! Look for ads in the English language newspapers leading up to the holidays or check with your favorite restaurants to see if they have a special buffet or set dinner for the holidays.
Most of the major malls and shopping centers get into the Christmas decorating in a big way. Activities include huge lighted trees, photos with Santa, special performances in the atrium areas, Christmas music, and more!
Christmas school vacations may leave your kids with some extra time on their hands. Consider getting them involved in a short course or lessons or some fun activities to take advantage of their holiday vacation free time.
New Year's Eve in Indonesia
Big New Year’s parties are planned by most of the major hotels in Jakarta. Events may include an extravagant dinner and dancing in the major ballroom, to informal dining in the lounges and lobbies. Whatever venue people choose, it is always a very noisy location come 12:00! Check newspapers and online newsletters and your favorite hotel or club for information on New Year's parties. Buy your tickets early as the good parties sell out quick! Often packages are offered at the larger hotels so party goers do not have to worry about getting home safely after the revelry has ended.
New Year's fun in major cities often entails buying terompet from sellers on the streets. Made from recycled paper and foil, these colorful trumpets are made in Central Java along with party hats. “Ranging in size from small horns suitable for children to paper versions of an Alpine flugelhorn, these instruments of merry-making manage to transform normally reserved and dignified people on New Year's Eve into mindless dolts, seemingly content to toot-toot-toot for hours until eventually succumbing to fatigue or respiratory failure.” (Bali Discovery) Many people celebrate New Year's buy buying these trumpets and loading as many people as possible in an open trucks, buses or private vehicles and driving up and down the main thoroughfares of the city while blowing their horns. This causes traffic jams, therefore party goers that are celebrating in hotels or other people’s homes find it easier to party on until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, waiting until the traffic jam around 12:00 o’clock has cleared.
Assure your children that yes, Santa Claus, Father Christmas or Sinter Klaus will find their home in Indonesia - stockings will be hung and the children will be just as excited as they are back home. Make Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's in Indonesia special for your family by participating in expat community activities and start some of your own special Indonesian holiday traditions.
Last updated November 18, 2015