Selamat Hari Natal dan Tahun Baru!

As I've explained most recently here and here, I draw my own holiday-greeting policy from my family's years of living in Malaysia. It's a country with a lot of ethnic groups and a lot of religions: Muslims, who are mainly ethnic Malays; Buddhists, mainly Chinese-Malaysians; Hindus, mainly ethnic Indians; small numbers of Christians of various backgrounds; Baha'is; people of no religion; etc. The prevailing practice is for people of each group to recognize all groups' holidays.

I have detected a certain "Oh, sure..." tone in messages from some readers, so I was glad to receive this note from an American working in Malaysia. All you need to know to get his point is that Selamat Hari Natal means "Merry Christmas" in Malay (similarly: Buon Natale or Feliz Navidad), and that the banner in his picture appears to be a civic-goodwill effort by the town of Batu Maung. To round it off, Selamat Tahun Baru is Malaysian for "Happy New Year."

I thought you might enjoy this banner I photographed recently hanging near my office in Penang, Malaysia.

As you know from your time here, we embrace and celebrate holidays from many religious groups so it's not surprising to see an official well-wish of "Merry Christmas".  But as an American expat, I can't help but wonder what would happen if an elected official back home took out an ad wishing "Hari Raya" [the main Muslim celebration at the end of Ramadan] to the American Muslim community.

At least Fox News can rest assured that the "War on Christmas" has not spread globally here to Malaysia.

Thumbnail image for Selamat Hari Natal.jpg

I think the background image of the bedecked fir-looking Christmas tree, in a country that is mainly tropical rain forest, is a particularly nice touch. To all, Selamat Tahun Baru.
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

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