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Friday, December 30, 2011

Siphoning the oomph out of X'mas spirit



My childhood Christmas in a sleepy snowed-in Austrian village was all about the gifts. When I left for college, returning for Christmas became more about meeting the family in person as the rest of the year it has been only through a computer webcam.

christmas school 261211 muhyiddinThis year, instead of seeing those loved ones for Yuletide, I got to see Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.

He probably wasn't aware or cared about my presence as much as I did about his. I was one of hundreds of attendees of a ‘Christmas open house’ in Kajang on Dec 26.

A vast cooled tent housed around 200 invited guests, the media and the guests of honour: the deputy prime minister with spouse, the minister of information with spouse and a Catholic priest.

Their speeches to an uninterested audience were interrupted by pseudo-ethnic and pseudo-Christmas performances of a sweaty and visibly dispirited dance group.

christmas kajang school 291211I have to admit I don't understand Bahasa and had to be told afterwards what the speeches were about.

The complete indifference of the audience who understood the language struck me even more. The guests and media seemed more focussed on the free food and after while, I was, too.

Observing Christ’s birth?

Was this event a political rally or a school-dance performance or a religious Christmas gathering?

christmas kajang school 291211Perhaps my ignorance blinds me. I am told that the 'event' is something completely out of the ordinary in Malaysia.

Muhyiddin in his speech said that Malaysia was the only country where people celebrated various cultural and religious festivals together, despite their different backgrounds.

Well, that's great. My only objection would be that this wasn't a celebration of the most important Christian festival of the year, the celebration of the birth of Christ.

This was a cheap self-staging event mocking Christmas and, much worse, Malaysia's vibrant and unique multi-religious society.

christmas school 261211 muhyiddinAs a (former) Catholic, I also am deeply disturbed by a priest, any priest, praising a politician, any politician.

Reverend George Harrison, wearing a shining white liturgical frock, from the Kajang Holy Family Church praised Muhyiddin for livening up the spirit of Christmas.

"Christmas is a time for us to give to the haves not. What the government has done today shows that the government understands this," he said.

Hedonistic moment

Of course, priests and non-priests might love and crave for the limelight and official appreciation of their existence.

Yet, a priest should not exploit his religious authority, only given to him to serve his community's spiritual needs, to cater for his own hedonistic moment of limelight.

christmas kajang school 291211Harrison referred to a RM1,000 donation made by the deputy prime minister to a (random?) resident earlier on Boxing Day and probably to the computers given to students by Muhyiddin in the ensuing ceremony.

Nothing is farther away from the exemplary Christian generosity than having half a dozen TV camera crews and even more photographers, one being myself, record that event.

Christmas, said Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol, is "a poor excuse to pick a man's pocket every 25th of December.  

It's just as much a poor excuse to stage an imbecilic event for self-promotion, wasting public money on it, causing  traffic chaos, dressing a sweating old man in a Santa Claus costume and handing out token gifts like a medieval lord.


PATRICK BOEHLER has studied political science, international relations and Chinese studies in Milan, Vienna and Beijing. Formerly with the Austrian ministries of defence and foreign affairs, he is now a graduate journalism student in Hong Kong.

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