Christmas is the spirit of giving without a thought of getting. It is happiness because we see joy in people. It is forgetting self and finding time for others. It is discarding the meaningless and stressing the true values.

THOMAS S MONSON, AMERICAN RELIGIOUS LEADER AND AUTHOR

Merry Christmas to all of you who are celebrating Christmas and a happy New Year to everyone! Time really flies. Soon it will be 2020. Tomorrow will be the eve of Christmas. Many of you who are Christians will, no doubt, attend the midnight Mass while others will opt for next day’s Mass.

Do you know that Christmas is the second most important Christian holiday after Easter? Christians celebrate Christmas to remember the birth of Jesus Christ, who they believe is the son of God. During the Mass, sometimes called Communion or Eucharist, they remember Jesus who they believe died and rose again.

But Christmas has been commercialised so much that some people think that it is all about holiday sales and Santa Claus which, by the way, is an enduring residue of European pagan beliefs.

In Sarawak, Christmas is an important celebration for Christians. Although Islam is the official religion in Malaysia, the Malaysian government has declared, for years now, Dec 25 as a public holiday for Christians.

In some Iban longhouses, particularly in Sibu Division, Christmas celebration starts on the eve with merrymaking and gathering. Many families working in towns and cities often have to return home to spend quality time with their old folk and relatives.

By tomorrow, many urban roads will be comparatively quiet. Good roads have made it easier for Sarawakians to drive their own vehicles back to their longhouses and villages. Even non-Christians are making use of Christmas and the year-end school holiday to keep in touch with their families and relatives in remote rural villages.

For Christmas it is customary for the prime minister, Sarawak Head of State, and chief minister to issue official messages on the eve of the celebration. These messages usually touch on the importance of religious unity and understanding in the country and how Christmas is enjoyed by people of other religions as well.

The latter is very true in Sarawak where it is usual for non-Christians to visit Christmas open houses and use the opportunity to catch up with one another.

Some Christians I know often ask Muslims to prepare food for their Muslim friends who visit them. They do so because they respect the food-related taboos of their Muslim friends.

In Western countries, turkeys and fruit cakes may be essential parts of the Christmas fare for visitors. But in Sarawak, you may be invited to feast on ‘rendang’ chicken, curry chicken, ‘pansoh’ chicken, fried noodles, ‘kek lapis’, etc.  All these are authentic Sarawak delicacies for those who turn up for a Christmas open house.

During Christmas, many Christians also decorate their homes with Christmas trees. Nowadays, many different types of artificial Christmas trees are available for sale with most of them imported from China. Many families, however, prefer to use their Christmas trees again and again.

Although I am a Christian, I never had any Christmas open house. I go to Mass on Christmas Day and maybe visit a relative or two. After that, I relax at home.  

What I like about Christmas are the lovely hymns and songs I hear in church. I am familiar with the old hymns and songs because I used to be a member of a church choir in high school.

I lived in Sibu then and members of the choir would go carolling during Christmas. We even went on a field trip to Kuching once. The boys were from Sacred Heart Secondary School while my girlfriends and I were from St Elizabeth Convent School. Our choir master, Father Marcus, was a priest from Sacred Heart Church.

Even now, whenever I hear the old hymns and songs, I remember the days when I was a choir member and I remember Father Marcus.

I’d like to conclude this column by once again wishing all of you good tidings. Please take care until the next time.