A Muslim On Christmas Day

My friend Cheryl had said church performance. “My church’s first performance,” her SMS beamed at me. I eventually accepted her invitation, thinking it sounds more fun than doing household chores.

Soon enough, I got thinking a bit more. What exactly is a church performance? A performance about a church? A performance at church? Performance by a church? All three? Neither of them? As I walked into the AYA Center at USJ Summit for the ACTS Church’s performance, I still did not know what to expect.

Then again, this wasn’t any day of the year. This is Christmas Day, the holiest and most commercial of dates on the Christian Calendar. Add in the fact that it’s Sunday, Christianity’s holiest day of the week (with a replacement holiday on Monday), and it’s no wonder people are feeling jovial. Smiles were widely beamed, greetings are happily exchanged, the place was brightly lit…and there was a lot of people there.

In fact, that’s the first thing that struck me. What are all these people doing here? I thought to myself as I was ushered to my seat by someone named Rachel. Shouldn't they be at home opening presents, pulling crackers and eating stuffed turkey?

Of course, I’m comparing it to Hari Raya, when the unwritten law in the unwritten book dictates that the first day to be spent with the family. Yes, we go to the mosque in the morning for Hari Raya prayers, but after that we’d rush home to be with our family and eat ketupat and lemang with rendang (then again, we’d have fasted a month by then, so you could understand). After all, It’s not as if there’s any shows being put on at mosques anyway. Islam does not have widespread youth cell groups putting up performances like this one by the ACTS Church.

Then again, try telling someone that you’re part of an Islamic cell group, and they’d probably think you’re a terrorist.

But yes. No cell groups, no shows. Go to the mosque, and pray. Anything else, leave it to the second day.

And the third.

And the fourth.

And therein lies part of the answer to the riddle. Muslims celebrate not only one but two Hari Rayas (Aidilfitri and Aidiladha, with the former technically lasting a month). Christmas Day is Christmas…Day. It happens only once a year, given that it’s primarily a celebration of Jesus’ birthday (it’s not as if he was born everyday for a month). With this in mind, I can understand people trying to pack a million and one things into this magical 24 hours.

The other part of the answer is that people are already with their families. Mothers brought their babies, guys brought their girls, friends brought their other friends (like me). They all came in their droves, so much so that there were hardly any seats left. I guess you could say the church is their family.

But that still doesn't answer the question. What is a church performance, especially one performed on Christmas Day?

“It’s a musical play,” answered Rachel, giving me an ACTS Church welcome pack (I got two by the end. I guess they really wanted me to feel welcome). “Just expect a Broadway-like musical performance.”

The programme began with sing-alongs of Christmas songs. The words were projected unto a screen, so those who don’t know the lyrics have no excuses. I sang along, quietly hoping that I won’t be blacklisted by the government or something like that. Then Sandra Chin, the church’s associate pastor, came up to say a few words. She talked about how blessed they feel are to be together on this special day, and how His love (God Himself? Jesus? The not-as-popular Holy Spirit? All three?) is with them as well. I half-expect her to launch into Wet Wet Wet’s ‘Love is All Around’ (“I feel it in my fingers…I feel it in my toes…”). Instead, she led another round of sing-alongs, giving me only half of that which I had half-expected.

The main show itself is called The Boy Who Sang The Right Song. It is about a young man, Joe, who wanted to join The Big Christmas Show (read: Malaysian Idol. Andrew Tan of the 2004 edition of Malaysian Idol adds the authenticity with a cameo). However, he was upstaged by Brad Guy, a suave, ultra confident, super egotistic man’s man, woman’s man, man about town. Joe loses hope in Christmas and despairs, eventually taken in by a street gang, who accepted him “because he’s a freak.” However, after meeting a wise man, he has a change of heart, and sets out to stop Brad Guy, who is secretly plans to rechristen Christmas Day to Brad Day.

The performance itself was very entertaining, well-written and directed by Jason Ding. The biggest quality, I feel, is the fact that it’s not afraid to poke fun at itself and Christmas in general (“Christmas Day, Christmas Day, Just another day!” to the tune of “Jingle Bells”). I sat there watching, laughing, smiling, and generally having a good time.

It struck me, however, at how similar the message is to a Hari Raya production. Both seek to remind people about the meaning of their respective holy days, that it is bigger than just Christmas presents and duit rayas. However, while this Christmas show is an upbeat musical, a typical Hari Raya production would probably be more melodramatic, showing an old grandmother all alone by herself in her house, as her children did not balik kampung for Hari Raya (or something heart wrenching like that).

After the show, Pastor Kenneth Chin led a round of prayers (“Now rise, my Christians!” So I remained seated). It was the only part of the morning that I felt uncomfortable with, though I felt it was a social reaction as much as anything else (Put yourself in my shoes: everybody else is standing, and you’re the only one sitting down).

Actually, I lied: there was one kid who also sat down. He looked at me intensely, his eyes almost asking: what are you doing here?

I smiled at him. I’m having a good time.

And I’ll probably see you next year.

Fikri Jermadi will next be checking out a barmitzfah.

*First published for THINK Online...I can't even remember when. Around the mid 2000s, that's for sure.