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Jakarta Post

Joy of Christmas: Yogyakarta villagers maintain long-time tradition of delivering gift boxes

  • News Desk

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Sun, December 22, 2019   /   02:42 pm
Joy of Christmas: Yogyakarta villagers maintain long-time tradition of delivering gift boxes Light of hope: People celebrate Christmas at Immanuel Church in Jakarta. (JP/Wendra Ajistyatama)

The sun was out on Saturday morning as a woman carrying a stack of boxes was seen visiting one home after another in Karangtengah Lor village, Kulon regency, Yogyakarta.

She delivered one box to each house. Inside the box was pandan sponge cake, corn chips, salted eggs and lemper (sticky rice roll).

A card accompanied the snacks that read, "Live as the good friends of everyone - the gratitude of Christian families in Karangtengah Lor, Margosari, to welcome Christmas and the new year".

"The recipients happily accepted the gift boxes and expressed their gratitude. Some of them wished me a Merry Christmas and a peaceful one," the woman, Muryani, said on Saturday as quoted by

Muryani does not carry out the task alone. She had been preparing the gift boxes with others since the previous day. 

They gathered at the house of Sri Nurjanah, who works at Wates General Hospital. There, she met Theresia Irine Sumiati, Mariastuti, Kristiana Sri Sulastri and Sugiyem. Some of them were Catholics while others Christians; all of them shared the task of wrapping the snacks before placing them in boxes.

The gifts were then delivered to around 150 houses in the village, regardless of the occupant's religion.

Giving out Christmas gift boxes has been a long-time tradition for the 20 Christian households in Karangtengah Lor. Each family has its own way of sharing during Christmas.

Mariastuti said as each family used to make their own gift boxes, some houses could receive up to four, while houses far from them would receive none.

They then decided to make the gift boxes together. They chip in to buy the snacks and wrapping material, before delivering them to their neighbors.

"Apparently doing this together makes distribution more even and we’re able to reach wider areas," Mariastuti said.

They change the items in the gift boxes each year, but keep the cake and lemper.

"Lemper is a must; it's a symbol of strengthening of our bond," Sri Nurjanah said.

Families in the village have been giving out gift boxes since the 1990s as a form of gratitude and commemoration of the birth of Jesus Christ.

Sri, for instance, has always made around 20 Christmas gift boxes for her neighbors. She said such a tradition was deeply rooted in the Javanese tradition of hantaran, in which gifts are sent to friends, neighbors and business partners.

Sri and her friends call it the atar-atar tradition, while others in Kulon Progo call it antar-antar or anter-anter. Some also call it kendurian. The tradition is often carried out during big celebrations, such as weddings.

"Christmas always brings happiness. We want our neighbors to feel the happiness too," Sri said.

Karangtengah Lor represents the diversity of the country. People living there come from various religious backgrounds and work in different fields. Sri said that despite the differences, everyone got along and lived in harmony.

This could be seen during religious commemorations, such as Idul Adha, during which Christian residents help slaughter sacrificial animals as qurban. The meat is then shared among residents, regardless of their religion.

While some regions have banned Christmas services, the holiday brings people in Karangtengah Lor together.

Approaching Christmas, residents of other religious backgrounds also help the Christians in preparing their gift boxes. Among the helpers was Tien, a fish cake seller, who brought along her daughter to take part in the task. They helped wrap the gifts and delivered them to their neighbors.

For families there, spreading happiness is a way of fostering harmony amid their differences. (ars)