A Kristang kind of Christmas
A joyous celebration of song, dance, faith, and tradition in historic Malacca
or “Bong Natal!” as how it is said in Kristang language, a unique mix of Portuguese and Malacca-Melayu.
Christmas is a huge event for the residents of the Portuguese settlement in Ujong Pasir, Malacca, who are mainly Roman Catholics. Celebrations start at the end of November (beginning of Advent month), right up to the Feast of the Epiphany in the first week of the new year.
The settlement was established in 1933 on 28 acres of land facing the sea, since many members of the community were fishermen. The 1,200 residents are a unique ethnic group resulting from an intermarriage between Portuguese and the native women of Malacca, back when the territory was under the rule of the Portuguese (1511 – 1641).
While the festive spirit is laced with song, dance and feasts, it is also a time to mend familial bonds as family members make their way home, even those living abroad. This year, the theme of the celebrations is “Prepare a Room for Jesus in your Heart”, doing away with the usual outdoor countdown on Christmas eve and instead focusing on the family and faith.
A helping hand is always welcome, especially when everyone wants to look their best for the Christmas eve dinner.
Members of the family preparing meat for Christmas eve dinner.
Preparing the Fletcher’s family favourite dessert, custard cake topped with peaches.
An elder of the settlement showing off the beautifully decorated Christmas tree in his house.
Even if it doesn’t snow in Malacca, snowflakes, and pine trees are a must in decorating homes for Christmas.
One of the many decorative items on sale, an electronic dancing and singing Santa Claus.
Youths enjoying a round of caroling and dancing at the Portuguese Square.
A customary rite in the nights leading up to Christmas is the door-to-door rendition of joyful religious and Christmas songs.
Houses are routinely decorated with bright coloured lights, Christmas bells, Santa Clauses in various shapes, and wreaths with silver and gold trimmings.
A younger member of the Fernandez family receives a cone of ice cream from Santa, as a reward for her carolling efforts.
Carolling and dancing in the outdoors is a fantastic chance for the entire community to get together and share the festive spirit among themselves, and curious visitors from all over the country.
Such an upbeat celebration attracts visitors from all over, many of them curious about the history and heritage of the settlement.
Santa Claus is a crowd favourite for photos and selfies.
Even Santa and his helper need some rest.
Apart from the traditional delicacies like Portuguese cakes and curry dishes, it’s also common for families to gather around a barbecue grill or even a boiling pot of soup for some steamboat.
A child plays with fireworks under the watchful gaze of his guardian.
Catholics attend the Christmas Eve mass for a prayer session and to receive the Holy Communion, a Christian rite to remember Christ’s sacrifice of himself on the cross.