How can one choose to celebrate the Holidays in such a place so far from home? Isn’t Christmas related with carols, nice meals, friendship, decorations and a fraternal feeling that surrounds everything? The fact is that all these nice aspects are present in the celebrations in this city.
The capital of Malaysia is a destination not short on wonders. I have been in this city several times and every opportunity I have to come, I fall even more in love with the place in which now I almost feel like as home. Even with such familiarity I never have had the chance of visiting in Kuala Lumpur in December. I have been hearing more and more about the fame of the Holiday celebrations in Malaysia, but I was still doubting a little bit about it. Malaysia never stops surprising the visitor and this became true once again this past Christmas.
After many hours of flight I saw myself in the modern airport of Kuala Lumpur. 40 minutes later I was doing the check in at the wonderful JW Marriott. Having just arrived to the lobby, I was already filled by the spirit of the Holidays. What beautiful decorations, carols all around and a celebratory feeling was truly present. I was greeted with a “thanks for choosing us to celebrate this special feast” and I was upgraded to a suite as a Christmas gift from the hotel. In the executive lounge different Christmas delicacies were served every day, from ginger bread cookies to all sorts of chocolates and sweet treats. In the streets the ambiance could not have been better. Amazing decorations were to be seen all around and of course on the days leading up to Christmas Eve the Malaysians were practicing with impressive efficiency their favorite sport: ‘Shopping’.
I visited several shopping centers, it is something almost religious in this part of the world. Carols, lights, Santa Claus everything that reminds us of this special time of the year was arranged in festive competition, it was evident that every mall was trying to create the best display of the perfect Christmas fantasy. I have to admit that the decorations and the atmosphere in the streets, restaurants, hotels and shopping malls far surpasses what one could hope to see nowadays in the United States.
The celebration here is disconnected for many people from the religious aspect. Some believe in Christmas as a nice day to share with family and friends or even an opportunity to exchange gifts, and why not to help those in the most need. But the religious disconnection is not total for everybody. I spoke with many Muslims here for whom this time is a special opportunity to celebrate the birth of someone they consider very important. I had the chance to share as well with several of the different Christian communities. Most of the churches –and they are a good number here- were packed. It was nice to see such variety of people. The Catholic Cathedral of Saint John put on their Christmas best for December 24th. Thousands of people attended the service, most of them followed it from the outside on screens and joined an enthusiastic choir (since seats in the inside were taken from hours before). In other parts of the property communities from Myanmar, Vietnam and Philippines were participating in other joyful celebrations. Every church and congregation we saw shared the same ecstasy.
Once again on the streets the crowds took over the city just before midnight on December 24th. So many people dressing with colorful Christmas hats. At midnight they exploded with emotion. The city was flooded with carols and the sound of trumpets. The happiness was evident, it was like being in the celebration of the New Year in other parts of the world. This midnight parade went on for hours. I have to say that I never expected to see such a big celebration of Christmas here.
December 25th the people took over the streets again, this time to share on the many luxurious meals prepared by restaurants and hotels. It was common to see everybody wishing a Merry Christmas to locals and visitors alike and of course once again the shopping fever took over the city.
I enjoyed a lot my experience in Kuala Lumpur. It was in many ways unique, but in others it shares a lot of what we do everywhere. It was at the same time earthly and heavenly. It was nice to see the joy of the people and the spirit of fraternity in a celebration that here goes beyond religious or social barriers.
As I said before Malaysia is a country that never stops astonishing the visitor. Once again they amazed me, this time with one of the most fantastic Christmas celebrations I have ever seen.