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Christmas in Malaysia

The observance of the birth of Jesus Christ on Dec 25 is celebrated in Malaysia like everywhere else in the world; it is a time for family and friends; hope and rejoicing; love and understanding; and giving and forgiving.

However, the image of a white Christmas - that of chestnuts roasting on an open fire, and Jack Frost nipping at the nose - doesn't quite fit in too well with a country that is merely seven degrees shy of the Equator. The average temperatures here range from a low of 22 °C to a high of 33 °C, so a sunny (or perhaps, rainy) Christmas is a given.



By far, Christmas is viewed as a universal celebration that carries a secular rather than religious meaning. One need only look at Santa Claus and his appeal to children of all religious and ethnic backgrounds, to realise how much it cuts across the board.

Perhaps due to this wide appeal (or some would say, commercialisation), retailers and hoteliers take an active approach by putting up non-religious motifs such as snow, stockings, Santa and his reindeers, candy canes and, of course, the Christmas tree. White, green, red and gold are the traditional colours of the season.

Urban areas like the capital city of Kuala Lumpur and the greater Klang Valley come alive during the Yuletide, with bright colourful lights and decorations perking up homes and business premises, providing a festive atmosphere. Shopping malls and hotels especially have become increasingly sophisticated in their decorations, trying to outdo the competition in their bid to attract shoppers and guests.

In many ways however, Christmas in Malaysia is a public holiday and is still very much a religious affair. To prepare themselves spiritually, the Christian community here, who make up about 7% of the population, observe Advent, the four-week period prior to Christmas, with prayers, Bible-reading and for some, fasting.

The word "Advent", is defined in Latin as "to come to" or "coming", and signifies the birth, as well as the final coming of Jesus Christ. The period of Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas (which marks the beginning of the Church Year), and lasts anywhere from 21 to 28 days.

In some churches, especially Catholic churches, wreaths are used to mark the weeks in the season of Advent. The Advent wreath, as it is called, consists of a circle made out of evergreens and four candles. Usually, a fifth large candle, white in colour, is placed in the middle of the wreath.

The shape of the wreath, the circle, symbolises the eternal nature of God, while the four candles - three purple, one rose coloured - represent the four weeks of Advent. The light from the candles represents Jesus as the light of the world.


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