Thursday, 23 December 2010

Hari Natal

The Indonesian term for Christmas, the holiday celebrating the birth of Isa Almasih (Jesus Christ) on December 25, is Hari Natal.1) Indonesians do not have specific traditions associated with Christmas in the way that Western countries do; every family builds its own Christmas traditions. Seen as an imported religious holiday, Christmas in Indonesia borrows western traditions such as Christmas parties and exchanging Christmas gifts. As children, I was also familiar with the story of Santa Claus and his presents under the Christmas tree. Recently, youngsters belonging to Christmas carol groups have begun to visit homes in their neighborhoods to raise charity funds.

The most important aspect of Christmas for Christians in Indonesia is going to church, either on Christmas Eve or on Christmas day. Almost all churches in Indonesia have more visitors than usual on that specific day. The story of the birth of Christ amongst the poor, after His parents were rejected at inns, is repeated in churches, reminding us to care more about the poor around us. For some years now, my children have taken Christmas gifts to the church. They put them under the Christmas tree in the church (or in front of a model of the Bethlehem cave if there isn’t a Christmas tree), or give them to those in charge at the gate to be collected for orphans or other children who need those presents. It is suggested that we give something useful for education, so we may give school bags, books, pens, pencils, etc.

As Catholics, my parents had an Advent candle tradition during the four weeks leading up to Christmas. While waiting for Christmas, we lit one new candle every week saying a special prayer. We had four candles alight by Christmas. We also had our own special Christmas gift tradition. The presents from Santa would be under the Christmas tree during Advent. They appeared one by one every time we children did our good deeds. When I was a little girl I used to carefully count my presents under the Christmas tree. I would find one was missing when I did something bad. Children nowadays have more questions about Santa Claus and I do not continue this tradition in my house now. The Christmas tree with lots of presents is in their grandparents’ house.

We did not hold parties during Advent, so we celebrated Christmas only after we had our Christmas mass (a special church service). My family doesn’t have a special Christmas Eve dinner, but we have a special family lunch on Christmas Day. It is kind of a Lebaran (Eid Mubarak) gathering too. The extended family will come and have a family reunion. My parents’ friends and neighbors used to come to greet them late in the afternoon or in the evening of Christmas Day. During Lebaran, it is the other way around: my parents (sometimes with children) visit them.

Some Indonesians open their presents on Boxing Day (the first day after Christmas day). However, while I was growing up, presents were kept under the tree until the New Year in my family. The focus of the present opening is the children. The adults (especially the unmaried uncles and aunts) enjoy seeing the enthusiasm and surprise in the children’s expressions when they open their presents. Now that my brothers and I are grown up we have our different New Years activities. Sometimes one of us is out of town. So, we open our presents on Christmas Day when we can all gather together. We used to put some gifts for the staff who help us at home under the tree too. It was to show that they were also part of the family, and that we cared about them. But now we just give the gifts to them privately, as not all our helpers are Christians. Recently some of our Moslem friends are reluctant to say “Merry Christmas” in case they are seen to be celebrating Christmas. So we considered it wiser not to include our gifts for those helpers under the Christmas tree.

For the Christmas lunch my family have some of our traditional food such as kanre minyak (greasy rice), nasi campur, and coto Makassar. One of my brothers is dating a girl from Palembang, so sometimes we also have pempek Palembang that comes directly from her hometown. We usually have this family lunch at my parents’ home. When my grandmother was still alive, and after she became a Catholic, we used to visit her on Christmas Day too. Occasionally we had our Christmas lunch at my aunt’s home when grandma was staying there. My cousins, whose parents are living in Makassar, also come to my parent’s house. We call their families by phone to wish them “Merry Christmas” too. My aunt, whose daughters are married to foreigners, used Skype for her Christmas gathering.

Christmas traditions in families also depend on ethnic backgrounds. Those from Menado or the (Christian) Batak would perhaps be more familiar with having a Christmas party after the Christmas Eve Mass. But the essence is still the same throughout the world - it’s time for a family gathering.

1)Kamus Besar Bahasa Indonesia IV (KBBI IV), the Indonesian language dictionary, stated that “natal” has two meanings: the birth of somebody and the birth of Isa Almasih (Jesus Christ). The word “natal” is accepted as an Indonesian word without the need to mention that it came from the Latin language.

Note: This article was published for the Indonesian Heritage Society Newsletter November - December 2009. I put it here for all friends and family who are longing for their families. May the spirit of Christmas bring joy in our heart...God bless us!

Picture was taken in 2007 when my grandma was still with us, her last Christmas before she went back to God.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

(Asian) Women's Problems Seen Through (Korean) TV Drama

Picture taken from

In "All About Marriage" (Please Marry Me), Jung-Im potrayed the Cinderella style of Asian married women. In Cinderella, girls share the dream of their prince charming to come, to rescue Cinderella from her sad story and to find the happily ever after ending. Indonesia has this kind of story in our lines of traditional stories, Bawang Merah dan Bawang Putih. But those are stories for girls. In this Korean drama the girl changed into a married woman. Aired by KBS in 2010, this film is probably inspired by the story of Susan Boyle who inspired the world by her performance in the Britain's Got Talents 2009. Cinderella is of course can be found anywhere. For some Indonesians the story of Cinderella is a bit out of date. The translation of Cinderella in Bahasa Indonesia is Upik Abu. While we used to say being an Upik Abu for those who work hard at home, now another term is better accepted..."Oshin". That Japanese film "Oshin" was so popular here in Indonesia that changed the perception of Upik Abu. May be because Oshin struggled in her life without the significance present of a prince charming, so she was a leading character for struggling women.

"All About Marriage" is not a serious drama like "Oshin". Yet, it blend the basic problems that women (perhaps it should be read as Asian women) are dealing with. This film shows us problems faced by different generations, not only by Jung-Im, but also by older generation like her mother-in-law. I think the most important idea from this film is the fact that Jung-Im like most Asian women did all her best to help her husband Tae-ho in his career. While sacrificing her days at home (without kids, which for some Asian men could be used as a reason to adultery) her husband enjoys his advancing career by flirting with Suh-young, his co-worker. How she survived her days and be able to stand up again as a woman is really wonderful (although it's still very Cinderella, as she was helped by another man, Hyun-wook)

I haven't got a lot of chances to watch Korean films. And, actually my interest in Korean films started up after my visit to Seoul. But from those Korean films I learned about problems that are faced by Asian women. The problem of being a daughter-in-law who need to serve the family of her husband. The problem of choosing between her own life and career and her family commitment. And also the communication problems in the family.

In another film, "You Are My Destiny", we can also see the problem between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law in generations, and also problems on communication.

In this other film (picture above is from KBS World), Jang Sae-byeok has to face both the urgency of a being a modern working wife, and the high demand of her mother-in-law to fulfill her duty as a traditional wife who moved into her husband's family. This film also shows how the different social status also played important source of problems and miscommunication. Perhaps the situation isn't always the same, there are other inspirational films that can enriched us with real daily life problems, yet it's clear that we are facing changing generations without leaving our old attitude of perceiving women's traditional tasks.

It's very obvious that Cinderella's dream is still shared between women, may be not just in Asia... While seeing Oshin as an ideal example of a struggling woman, I have to realized through these Korean films the bridging of the old tradition into the new era, the progress of understanding a woman position in the Asian society and how to deal with it in our own daily lives.

I think Indonesian women in my generation (and in big cities) are lucky as we're not really attached to traditional obligations to move into the husband's family. Even if you're moving in, I don't think that there is an obligation to serve for the whole family as I've seen in those films. Yet, similar problems (especially those communication problems) do exist. Seeing it in a film can help us reflected on our own daily problems and hopefully make us wise enough in facing our own problems.