Roman Angels, Animated Elves and Fire Dancers

When I first moved to Penang, I didn’t think much about how or even if Christmas would be celebrated.  Penang is a multicultural island, so they celebrate loads of holidays here, 23 to be exact, six in September alone…and that’s just in the state of Penang. Each month there are different festivals and parties, but as soon as December 1st rolls around—cue the Christmas music! Every shopping centre in Penang sets up their Christmas displays…and I’m not talking fairy lights on a tree…here, they go big!

Last year in the Queensbay Mall, one of Penang Island’s largest shopping centres, they had a snow machine and a train to hop on to take you through the winter wonderland. This year it’s a Roman affair complete with columns topped with Roman angels and cobblestone streets. Over at the waterfront shopping centre, Gurney Plaza, the theme is “When Christmas Toys Come Alive” and the main attractions here include animated toys and elves, massive clocks and a two-storey merry-go-round.

Santa was also on hand to meet all the kids with his belly laughs and hugs! I’m still shocked to see girls in traditional hijabs, wearing Santa hats and putting up Christmas decorations with their Chinese coworkers. It doesn’t matter what religion people are here; everyone loves Christmas.

There are Christmas Bazaars all around the island; some are in aid of charities while others are just about getting in the Christmas mood. The German-Malaysian Christmas Bazaar is a family event with face-painting and the appearance of Santa Claus or Weihnachtsmann for the kids. For the adults, it’s barbecued sausages, sauerkraut and mulled wine. This is the perfect place to find decorations, crafts and traditional cakes and cookies.

Carols are sung at various spots on the island every year and at the local theatre there’s a Christmas concert of 60 choristers accompanied by an orchestra to get you in the Christmas spirit. Almost every high-end hotel has massive buffets so you can gather a group of your closest friends, head over to a fancy hotel—remember to bring your own wine—and have a feast. No need to worry about cooking or clean-up.

And the celebrations don’t stop with Christmas. New Year’s Eve is another big party night for Penang.  The glitzy shopping centres are once again the place to be with fireworks, DJ’s, live bands, stilt-walkers and fire dancers galore.

Heaps of bars and restaurants have special menus and parties too, so it’s just as easy to go to your local hangout and spend the night there. If you go to Komtar, Penang’s tallest building, you can ring in the New Year at a big bash on the 68th floor. Tickets start at $50 and include a bottle of liquor, an all-night party with DJs and a band, plus, of course breathtaking views and fireworks galore.

If you’re a member or know a member of the Penang Swimming Club, you can attend their adults-only New Year’s Eve Masquerade Party. Tickets start at $31 and festivities include pre-dinner cocktails, an eight-course meal, a live band and Broadway-style dancers. Alternatively, you can party poolside at Hard Rock Hotel where a live band, drinks and party favours are included for the $32 admission price.

For my husband Mark and I, this year we’re taking in a bunch of expat parties, the Christmas concert, and the Gold Cup horse races…all before New Year’s Eve. With so many options to play with, we still haven’t figured out those plans yet, but after all those parties we might just opt for a beach with our mates, some beers and a bonfire.

And the good news is, January 1st isn’t the end of the festive season in Penang. In true Malaysian fashion, the celebrations keep going. Thaipusam, a widely celebrated Hindu holiday, is January 31st, the start of Chinese New Year is February 16th and Thai New Year, Songkran, starts April 13th. A new month, a new festivity!

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