An Indonesian Regency Is Banning Christians From Hosting Christmas Celebrations

The alternative is to go to the nearest church... 135 kilometres away.
translated by Jade Poa
Larangan Merayakan Natal Dharmasraya Sumbar Berakar dari Perjanjian 54 Tahun Silam
A Christmas celebration in Indonesia. Photo via Azqa Harun/AFP

This article originally appeared on VICE Indonesia.

Christmas is canceled for the Christians of Kampung Baru, Dharmasraya Recency, Indonesia. Following a 2017 agreement between the local government, tribes, and youth groups, Christians are prohibited from hosting gatherings with guests in their homes.

The regency is home to only 22 Christian families out of a population of 201,000.

Sudarto, Program Manager at the Pusaka Foundation, a Sumatran organisation that advocates for religious freedom, said that local Christians requested permission to hold a joint Christmas celebration in one of their homes, but were denied.


The agreement requires all Christmas celebrations to take place at a place of worship, but there are no churches in Kampung Baru. The Dharmasraya government said Christians may celebrate Christmas at the nearest church in Sawalunto, 135 kilometres away. If they choose to stay, they may only celebrate quietly and separately in their respective homes.

Despite coming into effect two years ago, the regulation captured the attention of netizens and the media only this year.

"We express our sorrow that after a long fight, the Christians of Kampung Baru, have given up. We submit to the regulation, but we are crying in our hearts. This year, we will not be celebrating Christmas," Sudarto told CNN Indonesia.

Local government representative Wali Nagari Sikabau, the Naigari Sikabau youth group and Ninik Mamak, an association of various Minangkabau tribes, formulated the regulation in 2017 so as not to disturb Muslims by hosting large gatherings and turning homes into places of worship.

When the case began garnering attention, Twitter user @Arj_Nusantara, who claimed to be a Dharmasraya local, provided some historical context to the situation. According to him, Kampung Baru was a destination for migrants in 1965. The government and civil society subsequently decided that incoming migrants must be Muslim. Everything ran according to this plan until some migrants left and sold their assets to non-Muslims.

Jamhur Datuk Jati, a Nagari Sikabau representative, said the Christians are mostly from North Sumatra, and that they created friction when they began using a home as a gathering place to celebrate Christmas.

Beka Ulung, Commissioner of the National Human Rights Commission, called on West Sumatra governor Irwan Prayitno to stop the discriminatory practice, but the policy is still being enforced. Prayitno said the matter had been resolved by the local government following a "mutual agreement." In Indonesia, it's not uncommon for consensus at the local level to hold priority over national legislation. In this case, it’s Article 28 of the Indonesian constitution, which guarantees every citizen the right to practice his or her respective religion.

Earlier this month, a survey on inter-religious harmony released by the Ministry of Religion placed West Sumatra as the second-least harmonious province after Aceh, the only Indonesian province that implements strict Islamic law.