KOTA KINABALU: About a quarter of Sabah’s 3.5 million population are Christians, which make Christian religious celebrations such as Christmas and Easter huge affairs for its multi-racial and multi-religious society.
Until the late 1970s, Sabahans enjoyed extended Christmas breaks, starting with a half day on Christmas Eve until Boxing Day on Dec 26.
However, the extra days were later cancelled by the Sabah government, leaving only one day of holiday – on Christmas Day.
Recently, a reader wrote to a local daily to suggest that it was time for the new Sabah government to consider restoring the extended public holiday, particularly the Boxing Day.
The screenshot of the article was widely shared on social media and messaging apps, sparking discussion on whether the additional holiday should be given or not while the older generation reminisced about the “good old days” when Christmas was merrier.
Two of these individuals are former classmates Agnes Totu and Awang Tajuddin Awang Abas, who agreed that having a two-and-a-half day Christmas break was something they treasured back in the days.
“I was already working at the time and I remember we were given half day off on Dec 24 to allow us to attend Mass. On Christmas Day, half of the day would be spent at church and usually spent with immediate family.
“Open house would usually be on Dec 26 where we had the chance to celebrate with friends and extended families,” said Totu.
The problem with having only one day off, she said, was that many opted to skip the obligatory Christmas Day Mass just so they could prepare for their open house on the same day.
She also lamented that the one-day only public holiday affected family ties as they did not get to celebrate the day with their extended families and friends.
Tajuddin concurred with Totu saying that in the olden days, things were different when it came to Christmas celebration.
“I think it would be good if the original public holidays were restored. I remember we had a lot of time to visit our Christian friends and families on that day and celebrate together, unlike today,” he said.
For the new generation, the fact that Sabah used to have two-and-a-half days of Christmas holiday is alien but as usual, many willingly jumped in to offer their opinions on the matter.
Civil servant Cleophas Gordon said he would welcome it if the government decided to restore the extra holiday because of its religious significance.
“It would be good to have a two-and-a-half-day Christmas holiday because in spite of the commercialisation of Christmas, it still remains a religious festival for Christians, especially for Roman Catholics who attend the Nativity Vigil on the 24th.
“Christmas day itself would be a time for family gatherings, and the day after Christmas is also a day filled with religious commemoration and a day to open the Christmas gifts,” he said.
However, Gordon’s friend Eric Bagang is a bit sceptical as he believes people have been taking extended breaks for the whole Christmas week up until New Year’s Day even without the extra public holidays.
He felt Sabahans have too many holidays. “Of course, it is good to have an additional day off for Christmas because in that way, people can prepare for the celebrations. Besides, those with limited annual leave can save a day.
Deputy Chief Minister cum Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Christina Liew admitted she did not have the full history of the reason behind the cancellation of the Boxing Day holiday.
“I can’t comment on whether the government should restore the extended breaks until I know about the history,” she told FMT.
Whether or not the new Sabah government would give an extra holiday, Christians in Sabah are already gearing up for the celebrations, with Christmas carols blaring from the speakers of heavily decorated malls and supermarkets.