Some 2,479 participants take part in ‘A Christmas Carol, Sarawak in Diversity’ event in Sarawak state in Malaysia on Dec 3. (Photo: The Borneo Post)

By UCA News reporter

Dec 7 2023

A state-sponsored ecumenical Christmas carol program in Malaysia’s Christian-majority Sarawak state drew thousands of participants becoming the largest gathering of its kind in the country, says a report.

A total of 2,479 participants joined in Christmas carol singing during “A Christmas Carol, Sarawak in Diversity” event on Dec 3, the Borneo Post reported.

The gathering in the Sarawak state capital, Kuching, was registered as the largest Christian gathering of its kind in the Malaysia Book of Records, the report stated.

It was hosted by the Unit for Other Religions (Unifor), a focal body for various religious bodies to liaise and interact with state and federal agencies and supported by state-run TV Sarawak.

The program will be aired on the TV Sarawak channel on Dec 23.

The event held in front of the Plaza Merdeka shopping mall was officiated by Sarawak’s Deputy Premier Sim Kui Hian and accompanied by John Sikie Tayai a minister in the Premier’s Department, among others.

Among the dignitaries present were Sarawak’s Deputy Premier Sim Kui Hian, Archbishop Simon Poh of Kuching, and five state cabinet ministers.

Participants sang popular Christmas songs such as O Holy Night, Feliz Navidad, We Wish You a Merry Christmas, Carols of the Bells, Deck the Halls, 12 Days of Christmas, and Last Christmas.

The organizers earlier courted controversy when the Association of Churches in Sarawak (ACS), the largest ecumenical forum, declined to take part in the program after TV Sarawak denied its request to replace the song Jingle Bell Rock with O Holy Night.

The state broadcaster had rejected the request to replace the Christmas pop song with a hymn citing “religious elements” and “protocol” from the Film Censorship Board of Malaysia and the Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Commission, the Malay Mail reported.

The state broadcaster’s stance sparked criticism from Christian groups and politicians who said it was a “grave insult” to the community.

Sarawak Premier Abang Abdul Rahman Zohari and Deputy Premier Douglas Uggah Embas intervened to end the stalemate and the changes requested by ACS were implemented, the Borneo Post reported.

Malaysia is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious nation with a population estimated at 32 million people. Sarawak is the largest among 13 states and the only state with a Christian-majority population.

About 60 percent of  Malaysians are Muslims, 20 percent are Buddhists, 10 percent are Christians and 6.3 percent are Hindus, according to 2018 government figures.

Most Malaysian Christians live in two states — Sarawak and Sabah — in the Malaysian part of the Borneo Island. – UCA News