What Christmas Means to Me as A Kuchingnite

Seeing that I come from Kuching, Sarawak, some people have asked if I celebrate Christmas since Christianity is generally presumed by many in the Peninsular to be the main religion of the non-Muslims in Sarawak.

Well, kind of yes, kind of no.

Some have also asked why if I’m a Christian since I have a so-called “Christian” name in the IC. No, I’m not.

The truth is that Christianity plays a very important part in the forming of Sarawak and the religion has a certain degree of influence probably evident since the Brooke era, which I read was favourably looked upon by the people.

Most of us Sarawakians probably don’t realise how great the Christianity influence in Sarawak is until we set foot in the Peninsular and are greeted with the said questions every now and then.

How many times during our childhood years had we stumbled upon our Iban or Bidayuh counterparts humming to the Christmas songs on radio while putting up price tags on goods, or been invited to our (father’s) friends’ houses for eating/gathering/partying on the Christmas day? Plenty.

But so long as we don’t get to see how Christmas is celebrated in Sarawak versus other states in the country, I guess we will remain numb to realise that Christmas for the non-Christians in the state is not just about religion, it is also not really a pop culture, but rather – a folk culture kind of thing.

I like and look forward to every Christmas because of the great memories I have about the festive day ever since I was 7 years old – maybe even younger.

It has to be in the 1990’s, when Christmas decoration in shopping centers and stores became major attractions for shoppers (which in my memories comprised of mostly families than individuals) and also competition among the taukehs.

By “shopping centers” I meant ones with just a few stories’ tall, which were by no means anywhere near the standards of any Jusco today. Just to name any, I have Wisma Hopoh in my top list because it always attracted so many people during festive seasons.

wisma hopoh
Wisma Hopoh. Image credit to nhovelt.blogspot.com.

Besides, I remember having to ransack through packs and packs of plastic bags for our small Christmas tree every time Christmas was around the corner because we had to place it at the counter to create more Christmas atmosphere. And below the Christmas tree were boxes of Christmas lights for sale.

Christmas also reminds me a lot of Sugarbun – Sarawak’s first local franchise fast-food chain. The branch in Satok/Haji Taha used to occupy the whole  building independently from ground floor up the the second floor.

Sugarbun Hajitaha
Image credit to qianlovesmusic.blogspot.com.

It had a mini library within the restaurant, a kid’s area that was so important to me and my brother, and most importantly the most Christmassy decoration in the whole of Kuching. Well, at least to me. And I also remember having once persuaded my parents to sit near the giant Christmas tree because I wanted to take home a candy cane I saw on the tree.

I also have Christmas memories of me helping my dad to close the store earlier because a long-time friend of my dad – a Catholic, would do an open-house Christmas party every year where we were invited.

So all of my family members, sometimes my dad’s friends, and some of my relatives, would go over and stay for maybe two hours. They always served good food. And lots of bear.

And this tradition had remained for years and years until the friend died of old age a few years ago.

Having spent a few Christmases of the last couple of years in the hustle and bustle of the Klang Valley, I guess I can now understand better what Christmas really is when it goes beyond religion and the pop culture.