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It is kind of interesting that the controversy of saying, “Merry Christmas” is not a big issue here in Indonesia. One thing I have noticed in this predominantly Islamic country is that people are usually very tolerant of all the various religions. In fact, Indonesia is one country that has the most “holidays” due to the celebration of all the religion’s observances (this makes working in Indonesia fun).
But I can definitely see how a celebration of the birth of Christ can easily be minimized over a period of time. In many of the malls in Indonesia, there are resemblances of the “consumer” mentality with the celebration of Christmas. There are all the “big” Christmas Sales, all the decorations, and even an Asian Santa Claus to take pictures with.
How does the celebration of the birth of Christ turn into a “holiday” rather than a religious observance?
People see it as a “holiday” because it is a time where people take time off from work and go on vacation. Even Christ-followers fall into the trap of thinking of this celebration as a holiday, rather than a time to deepen their love for Christ.
Also, all the commercialization of the season, help add fuel to the fire of seeing it as a holiday rather than something that has a greater significance to a person’s life. Christmas time always becomes stressful with all the busyness of getting presents for everyone on their list. It tends to distract us from the main “reason for the season.”
The irony of all this is that Christ-followers get so busy with church activities during this season that it just adds to the stress. I remember when I was working as a youth pastor in the States and having to attend all the Christmas services. Something in the back of my mind was thinking, “Shouldn’t Christmas be celebrated with family, as we peacefully welcome the birth of Christ?” But it was nothing but peaceful.
All the people who had to “serve” for the Christmas service were busy that they did not have time for family. Then the services were separate, where the youth would gather in one room and the parents in another. I wondered how many of the families really spent time together on Christmas day. I am sure many of them went out for a meal after the service, but still…
It was at that point, I made a conscious decision – “if I ever lead a church, I will not have Christmas services on the eve of or on the day of Christmas.” My thinking was simple. The family should come together without the pressure of serving or “going to” church in order to celebrate the birth of Christ together. Now, I understand that there are a lot of factors that might make it hard for families to come together (i.e. pre-Christian family, fathers who are hostile to church, parents going to different churches, etc).
But I have decided that as best as possible, our family will celebrate it together without all the responsibilities of “doing” church.
This is why when people here in Indonesia have been asking us, “Why aren’t you having a Christmas Eve Service or even a Christmas Day Service?” I have tried to gracious explain my reasoning for it. It is the Christian culture here to celebration Christmas with a Christmas eve and a Christmas day services.
But with some understanding of people’s situation as noted above, we are going to have an informal gathering of people who are either going to be alone for Christmas (expats who are away from their families) or people who will be separated from their families anyways and there is nothing for them to do.
It is my prayer that in the future, we can raise up a whole new generation of families that will be able to welcome in the birth of Christ with less stress and a lot more focus on Christ. In our family we have started a tradition of waking up together and going over the Christmas story, opening up the presents, eating a meal together and then just RELAXING and enjoying each other’s company. We hope to continue this even in Indonesia.