On Christmas Day, Muslims and Christians, from scavengers to affluent residents, were lining up to extend holiday greetings to Jakarta Deputy Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama at his official residence in Kuningan, South Jakarta.
The deputy governor — the first Christian of Chinese-descent to take a top job in the capital city since 1965 — hosted an open house to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ despite a mostly unheeded edict from the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) for Muslims not to wish Christians a happy Christmas let alone take part in festivities. The MUI had said wishing a happy Christmas was akin to confirming the “misguided” teachings of Christianity.
Ahok said that it was customary for high officials to hold an open house on religious festivals in a bid to stay in touch with residents of the city. “If other officials do it every Lebaran [the Idul Fitri Islamic holiday], I will do it on Christmas,” he said in his greeting speech, before inviting visitors to enjoy chicken satay, soto Betawi (beef and coconut milk soup) and meatballs that were served non-stop.
The election of Ahok as Jakarta’s deputy governor has been seen as a sign that the majority of Jakarta residents are becoming more tolerant of having a leader from a different religious background.
The last Christian to hold an executive post in the capital city was Henk Ngantung, who served as deputy governor from 1960 to 1964 and as governor from 1964 to 1965.
Governor Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, former governor Sutiyoso and former deputy governor Prijanto were among Ahok’s guests along with other Jakarta administration officials, who are mostly Muslims. Jokowi, who visited the Jakarta Cathedral and Immanuel Church on Christmas Eve, came at midday to Ahok’s residence to personally deliver his Christmas greeting, in what he called his first friendly visit to his deputy.
In most parts of the archipelago, Christmas celebrations passed off peacefully, except for the members of GKI Yasmin and Filadelfia congregations in Bogor and Bekasi who were still barred from holding services in their own churches. The two congregations still face persecution and called for an end to their plights.
In Yogyakarta, an entourage of some 70 representatives of community and interfaith groups conducted a Christmas tour to wish Protestants and Catholics a merry Christmas. They visited three churches, namely the GPIB Jamaat Church in Margo Mulyo, the Santo Antonius Church in Kota Baru and the Javanese Christian Church (GKJ) Sawo Jajar in Gondokusuman.
“On behalf of the Yogyakarta Palace we convey a Merry Christmas to you all,” KPH Wironegoro of the
Yogyakarta Palace told the congregation of Santo Antonius Church on Sunday evening, which was received warmly.
The palace, he said, supported multiculturalism and pluralism. “Hopefully what we do in Yogyakarta can be a light for Indonesia and the world,” said Wironegoro, the husband of the sultan’s first daughter GKR Pembayun.
Abdul Muhaimin of the Yogyakarta Interfaith Forum (FPUB) said the sultan had an obligation to protect the rights of all his people even those who believed only in the mythical figure of Nyai Roro Kidul, the ruler the South Sea.
In Bantul, Yogyakarta, thousands of Catholics flocked to Hati Kudus Tuhan Yesus (HKTY) Church to enjoy the colossal Javanese traditional drama Kethoprak during Christmas mass on Monday evening. “Through the performance hopefully the congregations will find it easier to understand the Bible, because the story is taken from verses in the Bible,” said Sri Nugroho, who organized the Christmas celebration.
A different way of celebrating Christmas was found on the slopes of Mount Merapi in Tangkil village in Magelang, Central Java. The celebration was marked by a blessing of agricultural implements, seedlings and livestock.
In Ungaran, Semarang regency, Central Java, Christmas celebrations held in Sidomulyo Square right next to the Ungaran Grand Mosque also ran smoothly and peacefully despite initial threats by the Islam Defenders Front (FPI) to thwart the event.
Some 3,000 worshippers from 40 churches across Semarang regency joined the celebrations that have been conducted annually in the square since 2000. (aml)
Bambang Muryanto, Slamet Susanto, Ainur Rohmah and Panca Nugraha contributed to this story