‘Like before the pandemic’: Families welcome return of Christmas festivities

For many families, get-togethers are part and parcel of the holiday tradition.

Dio Suhenda

Dio Suhenda

The Jakarta Post


Believers hold candles during a Christmas Mass at Immanuel Church in Jakarta on Dec. 24.(Reuters/Ajeng Dinar Ulfiana)

December 27, 2022

JAKARTA – Families celebrating Christmas have welcomed a return of classic holiday traditions, including church-going and family gatherings, while others have taken the opportunity to go on long-awaited vacations during the first year-end holiday season without strict public health rules since the pandemic began.

Carlos Dharmo, a 42-year-old private-sector employee from South Tangerang, Banten, had little choice but to attend Christmas services virtually in 2020 and 2021 because of pandemic-imposed limits on church attendance. He was excited to finally be able to attend this year’s Christmas Eve sermon in person at his church in North Jakarta.

“Since there was no [attendance] limit this year, I was excited to go since I knew it was going to be lively, like how it was before the pandemic,” he told The Jakarta Post on Sunday.

Carlos said some 2,000 people – just 20 percent shy of the church’s maximum capacity – attended Saturday’s service. They included many of Carlos’ friends, whom he had rarely seen in person since the pandemic started.

This year, the government has allowed churches to return to their full occupancy levels. In 2020 and 2021, the government limited Christmas service attendance to 50 percent of building capacity.

The government has decided to maintain level 1 public activity restrictions (PPKM), the lowest in the four-tiered system, over the holiday season nationwide until Jan. 9, amid low COVID-19 cases.

On Sunday morning, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo toured churches in the vicinity of Bogor Palace in West Java. In an official video clip, Jokowi and Bogor Mayor Bima Arya were seen without masks greeting eager churchgoers.

“I can see how very happy people here are to welcome Christmas this year,” Jokowi said at a Protestant church.

Happy holidays

For many families, get-togethers are part and parcel of the holiday tradition.

“What’s most exciting about Christmas for me is that everyone in my extended family will spend the whole day together at my house,” Ivan Pratama, a 25-year-old South Tangerang resident, said on Sunday.

While Ivan had been able to gather with his family throughout the pandemic, this year’s Christmas get-together was the first in years that members of his family could freely converse and eat together without fear of COVID-19 transmission.

“Before this year, everybody was always so on edge. We wouldn’t take off our masks or be too close to each other,” he added. “But this year, we celebrated Christmas like how it was before the pandemic.”

Eighty-one-year-old Elisabeth Sulastri from Banten’s Tangerang regency and her family, meanwhile, traveled to Bali for a vacation for this year’s “normal” Christmas.

“Of course, I had my fears. But, after close to three years of practically holing up at home, I really needed to go on a vacation,” she said.

Earlier this month, a preliminary study by the Transportation Ministry predicted that 16.35 percent of the nation’s population, or some 44.17 million people, would travel during the year-end holiday season.

Heightened security

The National Police, with help from the Indonesian Military (TNI) and civilian volunteers, have mobilized more than 160,000 joint personnel to over 52,000 places of interest across the country, including 41,000 churches, to keep people safe during the Christmas and New Year holidays.

Police Chief Listyo Sigit Prabowo said on Thursday that the heightened security measures were intended to stop potential terrorist threats against Christmas gatherings and New Year celebrations.

To this end, Listyo, along with newly appointed TNI commander Adm. Yudo Margono, held a security inspection at Jakarta’s Cathedral Church on Saturday night, kompas.com reported.

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