Selamat Hari Natal dan Tahun Baru!

By James Fallows

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.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/01/selamat-hari-natal-dan-tahun-baru/267026/