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.