A woman takes a selfie at Malacca’s Portuguese Settlement which is brightly lit up by Christmas-themed neon lights. Pix by MUHAMMAD HATIM AB MANAN.

FESTIVE seasons in Malaysia are an occasion to take a break, bask in the warmth of family love and rekindle pleasant memories of earlier times.

There is a comfort and rhythm to the joyous celebrations that define different times of the year. The Christmas holiday and the days leading up to New Year’s Day see all Malaysians taking time out from their hectic schedules.

For Christians, Christmas is a humbling period that brings great pleasure.

For Malaysians of other faiths, the holiday provides them with respite from the normal routine of school or work, allows precious moments to be shared with family and friends, and lets them enjoy the gatherings hosted by celebrants.

A common thread among the many traditions of Christmas everywhere is the bonding session with loved ones. Of course, not forgetting the sights and smells that evoke Christmases past, and the kindness that comes from random acts of goodwill.

How believers choose to observe Christmas is up to each of them, but some Christians reject the over-the-top commercialisation of the holiday and vote for a return to an era when emphasis is on the occasion’s religious significance.

There will be no loud Christmas Eve countdown at Malacca’s Portuguese Settlement this year.

Instead, community leaders are encouraging residents of the close-knit settlement of 118 homes in Ujong Pasir to focus on strengthening family ties, traditions and religious practices.

Bright twinkling lights and massive decorations, such as the giant snowmen that usually greet visitors to the popular historical settlement 5km from the Malacca city centre, have been replaced with nativity scenes, candles and modestly decorated Christmas trees.

Emphasis is now on the spiritual aspects of the holiday, rather than excessive merriment and commercialisation.

The idea is to encourage young Christians to appreciate the true meaning of Christmas with their families. The chaos and commercialism of the season can be stressful.

Finding the perfect gifts for special people and ensuring they are elaborately wrapped, decorating the home and cooking the various festive staples often place a heavy burden on celebrants.

This is why it is important to reflect on the reasons behind the effort.

The year-end “breathing space” will help Malaysians recharge their batteries and give thought to the uncertainty happening at home and abroad.

The rising cost of living and the violence happening around the world compel us, as a society, to take steps to shield ourselves from poverty and terrorism.

From the carnage of Aleppo and the attacks on the Rohingya to the savagery in Turkey and Europe, we see little evidence of peace on Earth.

However, this is not an excuse for us to give up hope.

Consider the selfless actions of some Malaysians, who volunteer at food banks, shelters and charitable organisations. They work hard to ensure that the less fortunate do not go hungry during festive seasons, which can be painful occasions that intensify their sorrow.

Such volunteers inspire us to rise above our difficulties and do good.

We must always remember the needy, refugees fleeing conflict and people reeling from the trauma of having lost their loved ones.

Merry Christmas.

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