Christmas 1991 was my first in Indonesia and the first of my life outside England. I had not given any thought whatsoever to what Christmas might be like in a Muslim country, and I was pretty shocked to find out that, for most Indonesians, it is no more than a day off. Luckily there were quite a few expats in our group who wanted to celebrate Christmas, so we started the festivities early as we would have in England – on Christmas Eve.
We arrived at the Hilton Hotel’s Oriental Club at around 9pm after a very liquid dinner at the hotel’s coffee shop. Our good friend Mike was the DJ and he had arranged for some suitably festive entertainment in the shape of his normal sexy dancers wearing scanty Santa outfits. He also played all the classic Christmas songs one after the other the whole night long and the friendly Indonesians present joined in the fun as much as they could, while taking great delight in watching this group of crazy expats sing every song word for word as loudly as possible while simultaneously dancing and drinking without spilling a drop. Great fun was had by all, Indonesians and expats, Muslims and Christians side by side in far from perfect harmony. Most unexpectedly one of the best Christmas Eves of my life.
The crowning glory of the evening came at midnight when Mike played the song Santa Claus is Coming to Town by Bruce Springsteen and announced that Santa Claus had landed on the roof of the hotel and was making his way down to the Oriental with gifts for us all. We cheered and looked expectantly in the direction of the door while singing loudly along with the song. Nothing happened. Mike announced “Santa is here!” again but still nothing happened. Eventually the song ended and we stood there in silence staring towards the door. We looked at Mike but he just gave us an “I have no idea” shrug and started towards the door to see what was going on. Before he got to the door it burst open and Santa stumbled in holding a large red sack over his shoulder and swigging animatedly from a bottle of Jack Daniel’s. He stopped in the middle of the dance floor, swaying badly and surveying us suspiciously from behind a huge white beard. “F***ing Christmas” he slurred loudly, “what a load of sh*t…” He took a long guzzle from the bottle. Mike approached him looking confused and started to ask what was going on. We were sure that this was all an act laid on for our amusement and we were laughing heartily at this hilarious floor show until Santa dropped his sack, switched the bottle to his left hand and took a serious drunken swing at Mike. It missed, and Santa stumbled forward struggling to keep his balance. Mike jumped on him from behind and tried to take the bottle from him but it was like trying to take a bone from a Doberman. A major struggle ensued and they ended up rolling around on the floor. We were all so shocked we couldn’t move, but the hotel security guys showed up pretty quickly and dragged Santa out while he shouted even louder and more imaginative profanities about Christmas, expats and some b*tch we didn’t know.
Mike picked up the sack and walked slowly towards us, straightening out his clothes and dusting himself down. When he got to us, he reached into the sack and pulled out gift after gift, handing them round one by one until he got to me. “I’m afraid Santa drank yours” he said. We all laughed and the tension of the situation was finally relieved.
It turned out that Santa (otherwise known as Yono, the club’s Indonesian manager) had been involved in a serious argument with his wife about volunteering to be Santa Claus for a bunch of expats on Christmas Eve, when he could have been home with her and the kids. He had a weakness for bourbon and had easily recognised the sound, size and shape of a bottle of Jack Daniel’s through the wrapping paper, so he had sought to drown his sorrows with my gift from Mike before carrying out his festive mission just to spite the wife.
The security guards tried to take him home and put him to bed after they extracted him from the club, but his wife wouldn’t let him in the house. About an hour later he showed up back at the club, still very drunk, still dressed as Santa complete with beard, but now full of bonhomie. The smaller photograph that accompanies this article was taken just after he got back. He and Mike hugged it out and we went on singing and dancing together until well past sunrise Christmas morning. Happy (Christmas) days