The following post comes from CBF field personnel Jonathan Bailey.
Christmas in Bali is defined by music. At least for me and Tina. In our living room here in the village of Sanur on the fabled island this balmy morning, I sit and survey the evidence. Outside the open doors all is green, palms and ferns and mango trees and the delicate perfection of frangipani blossoms strewn across the grass wet from the night rain. The Hindu landlord’s family temple is in view across the yard, its court open to the heavens and between me and the great volcano some distance away. Inside the house, across the room from where I sit is the Christmas tree. Hanging from its limbs is the history of my life with Tina. It references East and West on its artificial green stems. There are no Christmas tree lots in Bali. Pines are rare in the tropics and the few that exist find their life’s end in hotel lobbies decorated for nostalgic Dutch holidayers.
Beside the Christmas tree sits a table draped with a red and white batik cloth. Its two Balinese figures dance beneath the nativity that is displayed upon it. And in this scene around the baby Jesus are ceramic figurines: Joseph and Mary and the Wise Men wear celedon blue, their Thai faces framed by blond hair. Gamelan players from Java sit round in bright orange and red providing the heavenly music for the angels watching the scene. One wears sunglasses. Perhaps the brilliance of the star is to blame. Primitive figures from Sumbawa, carved in bone kneel stone-faced behind an elephant, her trunk raised to trumpet the birth of a new day. Nearby sits a bleary Ukranian friend, mug in hand. A kissing Dutch couple (not really paying attention), Rama and Sinta, and a kneeling Thai couple, all gather round the holy family. Cats and chickens, donkey, sheep and turtle complete the scene. And on the wall behind this global nativity is an old Darsane batik: the angel Gabriel with Garuda-like wings spread before a blazing sun whispers the future to a dancing Mary, her long black tresses flowing in the wind.
But my view of this scene from across the room is partially blocked by a music stand and microphone from yesterdays rehearsal. In fact, the rest of the living room is all about the music being rehearsed for Christmas celebrations taking place throughout this month. There’s a keyboard and violin on the coffee table. Amp and cello to my left. Beyond them is arranged the gamelan with large jegogs and jublags and tiny kantilan. A reong stretches across the way behind them all. Bamboo flutes lie atop pemades. A massive gong hangs to my right with its little brother, the kempli beside. And in the middle of it all sits on its unadorned wood frame, the kajar, the metronome of this metallaphone orchestra.
Music from east and west and the dance that it accompanies, both traditionally Balinese and modern, marks our Christmas in Bali. It is God’s world in its diversity of sound and movement that during December and January comes alive in a way that is unique in the year. The celebration of Christmas in Bali is largely confined to the churches of this tiny island where Hinduism makes up more than 95% of the religious scene. There are no Christmas sales and TV commercials distracting us from the meaning of God entering the world as baby. Instead, we simply celebrate. And friends Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist who may only know Christmas from American TV or films are invited to celebrate with us because the religious life of Bali, with all of its challenges, is, also, a community scene. The musicians with whom I play and the dancers that join Tina’s dance are as diverse a group as the nativity scene on our living room side table. At Christmas I am reminded that God in Christ comes to all regardless of culture, national origin, or religious heritage.