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Christmas Comparisons: Family, Food and Festivities in North Sulawesi

Christmas is by far one of the largest Christian celebrations of the year which is celebrated throughout the world. Although the origins of Christmas and the story of the birth of Jesus is the same the world over, the ways in which different countries celebrate Christmas can be extremely different. Did you know that in Germany gifts are exchanged on the 24th December instead of the 25th? Or that due to a shortage of turkeys in Japan, many families celebrate with a KFC (Finger-lickin’ good Kentucky Fried Chicken) family bucket on Christmas Day? It’s so popular you even have to order it weeks in advance of the holidays!

KFC Christmas Japan

Kentucky Fried Chicken is now traditional Christmas Dinner in Japan and must be ordered weeks in advance

Did you know that in the Ukraine, fake spiders’ webs are used to decorate the Christmas trees and bring good fortune? The legend goes that a poverty stricken family went to bed on Christmas Eve despondent because they couldn’t afford to decorate their tree. The spiders, roaming the home’s walls and floors, heard the cries of the family, and took it upon themselves to decorate the tree with their webs. On Christmas day, the strands turned to gold and silver, changing the family’s fortune forever.

Ukraine spiders webs

In the Ukraine, spiders webs are used as tree decorations to bring good fortune


North Sulawesi is the largest Christian province in Indonesia and Christmas here is also the biggest celebration of the year. Here are some of the Christmas traditions from North Sulawesi – you may be surprised by some of the similarities but even more so by the differences!

Turkey on Christmas Day?

In North Sulawesi, turkey is a big no at Christmas time – instead, it’s all about pork (Babi in Indonesian). The traditional style of pork eaten on the 25th of December is known as Babi Putar which is a whole pig, spit roasted over an open fire. If you like crunchy crackling, you’ll be in seventh heaven on Christmas day in North Sulawesi! The roasted pork is served with steamed rice and a huge selection of different vegetable dishes – and of course a healthy serving of “Dabu Dabu” (fresh, spicy chilli sauce!)

Babi Putar Sulawesi

Babi Putar (Roast Suckling Pig) is traditional at Christmas time in North Sulawesi

Babi Putar is eaten at lunch time or in the afternoon at home by the immediate family members. In the evening extended family will visit and the remainder of the pork is eaten buffet style.

Christmas Cake or Mince Pies?

If these are your two favorite Christmas treats, you will be out of luck in Indonesia. In North Sulawesi families stock pile numerous (huge) jars of many different types of Christmas Cookies. You’ll find butter cookies, chocolate chip, fruit cookies, mini jam pies, oatmeal – you name it and they’ll be a jar of them! Christmas cookie supplies usually last into January, beyond that, you’ll need to wait for next year!

Christmas cookies Sulawesi

Families stock a wide array of Christmas cookies in North Sulawesi for over the festive season

Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree…

YES! Christmas trees are also a part of the festivities in North Sulawesi. The trees are decorated in much the same way as in Western countries. In North Sulawesi, the top of the tree is often dressed with an angel, star, cross or crescent moon.

Trees are usually decorated in the first week of December and at the same time, families will clean house, re-decorate, carry our repairs, put up new curtains and generally overhaul their properties for the year ahead.

Christmas tree Sulawesi

Christmas trees in North Sulawesi are found in people’s homes, shopping malls and other public places

Work Christmas parties

In western countries the work Christmas party is often an event many want to avoid but here in North Sulawesi it’s a highlight for the staff. Instead of dinner, drinking and dancing, Christmas parties in North Sulawesi are more akin to carol services. A priest will attend and lead prayers; hymns and Christmas carols are sung by all; annual awards are presented; door prizes are given; plenty of photographs (and selfies) are taken, staff light candles and receive a blessing and this is followed by a lavish buffet which will, of course, feature Babi Putar. North Sulawesi Christmas parties are comparatively civil and the main focus of these events is religious celebration and giving thanks. At this year’s Murex Christmas party 20 motorcycle crash helmets were given away to staff as door prizes to promote the importance and awareness of road safety to our staff, their families and children.

Murex Helmet Prizes

To promote road safety in North Sulawesi, 20 crash helmets were given away as door prizes at this year’s Murex Christmas party

The Gift of Giving?

In North Sulawesi huge piles of presents being deposited under the Christmas tree by Santa Claus is nothing more than a myth – but that’s not to say that Santa doesn’t exist. During the 1st week of December, parents who wish to do so, will give money to their church in order for Santa to visit them with a gift for their child. Partaking households will be visited in the 1st or 2nd week of December by Santa Claus and his angels. Santa will remind the children about being good, helping their parents, going to church and trying hard at school before giving them the present requested (and paid for) by their parents. Gifts can be small toys worth a few dollars up to more expensive items such as PlayStations, depending on what the family requested and how much they paid.

Santa Parade Manado

The Annual Manado Christmas Festival Santa Claus Parade

On the 25th of December there is no gift exchange but children (school age) are given money by their older family members. Elementary school children will receive around $1 from each adult and high school children $1 – $2. The children usually save their money for buying candies when they return to school.

Midnight Mass?

A big yes to this one in North Sulawesi. Christmas is very much a religious celebration here and families will attend church for Midnight Mass on the night of the 24th, Christmas Day service on the morning of the 25th and again on the morning of the 26th.

Christmas North Sulawesi

Lighting Candles in church and at parties is traditional in North Sulawesi

Going out with a Bang!

Fireworks are a big part of the celebrations over the festive season and particularly New Year in North Sulawesi. Fireworks are let off on the evening of the 24th and again on the 25th. The majority of fireworks are saved though for midnight on New Years Eve and this is when the skies turn into a sea of exploding lights and flashes – it’s an incredible sight – and sound!

Do you have any unusual traditions in your own country? We’d love to hear more so please tell us about them in the comments section below!

Passport to Paradise

Join us for a Passport to Paradise and dive or snorkel 3 distinct locations in North Sulawesi

Are you planning your next diving or snorkeling trip to North Sulawesi? Why not join us for a Passport to Paradise and explore three distinct destinations in one incredible holiday? Dive or snorkel Bunaken -> Bangka -> Lembeh with the pioneers of North Sulawesi exploration. Discover Bunaken’s staggering wall dive sites and lose count of the number of turtles, drift over Bangka’s kaleidoscopic coral reefs which are home to schools of colorful reef fish and dive into the Lembeh Strait for the world’s highest concentration of rare and unusual marine life. Boat diving transfers link resort to resort so there’s no wasted travel time, no gear drying and packing – just dive (or snorkel) your way around the world class sites of North Sulawesi. We take care of the logistics so you don’t have to!

For more information about Passport to Paradise or any of our Indonesian resorts, contact us on:

We look forward to diving or snorkeling with you soon in North Sulawesi!


Dive, Snorkel and Explore More with us in beautiful North Sulawesi.

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