Long Preserved Christmas Traditions in Indonesia

Christianity has been existing in Indonesia since the 16th century. Therefore, it also has experienced acculturation with the local customs. It results in uniquely diverse Christmas traditions across the regions in the country. If you’re planning to travel to Indonesia during Christmas holidays, here are some celebrations you should not miss!


1. Marbinda & Marhobas, North Sumatera


Image by : batakselebgram

North Sumatrans have a unique tradition called Marbinda, which involves sacrificing animals purchased from shared savings as a way to celebrate Christmas. Besides Marbinda, there is also a tradition called Marhobas, meaning cutting and distributing the animal meat from Marbinda ceremony.

It might sound like the Qurban tradition for Muslims, but this hereditary tradition has a different meaning, which is to strengthen the relationship and kinship among the Batak Toba community in the spirit of 'Sa Sada Hudon' (sharing the same source of food). You will find this tradition celebrated in the villages around Lake Toba if you’re coming for a Christmas holiday. Sounds unique, isn’t it?


2. Rabo Rabo, Jakarta


Jakarta has indeed become a metropolis, but there are still a handful of people who still maintain the hereditary Christmas tradition. The tradition, which originates from the acculturation of Portuguese and Betawi tradition, is called Rabo-Rabo. This one-hundred-year-old ritual involves the people coating each other's faces with liquid powder accompanied by Tugu Keroncong live music performance as a symbol of collective cleansing on welcoming Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Visit Jakarta during Christmas holidays and, if you’re lucky, you will stumble upon this celebration when you’re coming to Kampung Tugu in North Jakarta.


3. Wayang Wahyu, Central Java

Most of us will instantly think about the stories of Mahabharata or Ramayana when ‘wayang’ or shadow puppet performance is mentioned. However, there is also a kind of wayang that is popular among Christian Javanese, namely Wayang Wahyu. Not like any other wayang, this one tells the stories derived from the Bible and depicts various figures in Christianity, including Jesus Christ himself.

Wayang Wahyu was created in 1959 in Surakarta by a Dutch missionary and a headmaster of Pangudi Luhur Purbayan Elementary named Brother Timotheus L. Wignyosoebroto. Two years earlier, he witnessed a shadow puppet show by M. M. Atmowijoyo whose story was taken from the Old Testament. Since then, Brother Timotheus had an idea of presenting Catholic religious stories through the shadow puppet tradition. Until now, you can still witness the performance of Wayang Wahyu during Christmas holidays in several churches in Central Java.


4. Penjor & Ngejot, Bali


Aside from decorating their house with Christmas trees, Balinese Christian also adorn their exterior with penjor; a long, big, curved bamboo which is decorated with young coconut leaves. Penjor, which has been an identity of Balinese cultural and social harmony since a long time, is a symbol of Naga Basuki which means welfare and prosperity.

There is also a communal hereditary Christmas tradition called Ngejot; bringing home-made dishes to neighbors, friends, and family as a way of expressing gratitude. Generally, this tradition is carried out by Balinese Moslem, Hindu, and Christian to commemorate their heartwarming religious tolerance.


5. Kunci Taon, North Sulawesi

The Minahasan community celebrates Christmas earlier compared to most people. Since the calendar entered the month of December, Christmas celebrations have been carried out in churches in Manado. Furthermore, the Minahasan community will also conduct a pilgrimage tradition to the burial grounds of their deceased relatives.

One unique thing from Minahasan Christmas celebration is that most of them will put ornamental lights on the cemetery of their loved ones. The tradition, commonly referred to as Kunci Taon, will be the closing ceremony of the Christmas celebration in Manado. Usually this tradition is followed by a traveling parade where the participants wear a variety of interesting costumes. You will probably come across this celebration if you’re visiting Manado during the Christmas holidays.


6. Meriam Bambu, East Nusa Tenggara


Image by : arifatara

In welcoming the birth of Jesus Christ, people in Flores have been preserving the tradition of Meriam Bambu celebrations. Roughly translated as bamboo cannons, Meriam Bambu is actually a traditional form of fireworks. Kerosene and rubbing ash are inserted into a hollow bamboo stick through a small hole on the back end, which will be lighted up by fire to release explosive sounds.

Meriam Bambu tradition is carried out by almost all residents on Flores Island, especially in villages with many children. It is usually celebrated during the advent period until the Christmas feast and the New Year’s Eve. You can experience the thrilling celebration by yourself if you’re coming to Flores during Christmas holidays.


7. Bakar Batu, Papua

bakar batu

Bakar Batu or Barapen is actually a tradition done as a way of expressing gratitude and sharing togetherness. Papuans usually conduct this ritual after Christmas Mass is over. Before leaving the Mass, they will first gather and cook pork, sweet potatoes, kale, papaya, and other complementary ingredients inside a big hole made with stacked hot stones. Since the cooking process takes up to half a day, they usually leave the scene while the food is cooking and return when the relatives have gathered.


The cultural diversity is what makes Indonesia wonderful and definitely worth visiting, especially during Christmas holidays. As always, we need to kindly remind you to learn about the newest international travel regulations to Indonesia before you’re planning your holiday. Don’t forget to also comply with health protocols and implement healthy habits such as practicing social distancing, wearing a mask in public places, and washing your hands regularly. Stay safe, stay healthy, and Merry Christmas to all of you.