A mall in Jakarta in the mood for Christmas.
JAKARTA: An imported Christmas tree. Santa taking wish lists from children. Fake snow and carols at shopping malls. Christmas is serious business in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation.
Malls and luxury hotels in Jakarta are offering holiday deals and are decked out for Christmas, with shoppers at the sprawling Taman Anggrek mall even surrounded by fake snow drifting from the ceilings in the tropical country.
At the same mall earlier this week, about two dozen uniformed Salvation Army volunteers collected donations for the needy, as a caroler regaled shoppers with "Jesus, Lamb of God."
The vast majority of Indonesians are moderate Muslims with only eight per cent Christian even though recent years have seen a spate of religious attacks in the country of 240 million people.
Last year the Christmas decorations caught the eye of the official Indonesia Ulema Council, the country's top Islamic body, which complained the decorations in malls, hotels and other public places were excessive and provocative.
So far this year the MUI has remained quiet about the Christmas glitz.
Taking advantage of the retail opportunities over the Christmas period, malls in big cities such as Jakarta, Surabaya and Bandung have been offering midnight sales to lure late-night spenders.
"People usually buy many presents before Christmas. We held midnight sales to give shoppers more opportunity to spend their money," said Astri Permatasuri, public relations manager at the capital's Plaza Indonesia mall.
Permatasuri said that the number of visitors was up by more than 10 per cent compared with the same period last year, and that she expected shoppers in Southeast Asia's fastest growing economy to spend even more this year.
At Jakarta's Grand Indonesia mall, children were invited to pose with Santa or give him their Christmas lists.
Earlier this week, shoppers at the the Pacific Place mall watched a magic show and posed before Christmas decorations, some of them women wearing the Muslim headscarf.
"My office is near this area and I am just following my kids," said Mita, a mother of two who wore a headscarf and wanted to move away when approached by a reporter.
"You better ask my kids," she replied when asked if she liked the Christmas glitter.
Ika, a supermarket cashier at the Grand Indonesia, said she did not mind sporting the reindeer hat all employees were instructed to wear.
"It is OK with me, because it just shows I'm respecting another religion," she said with a smile.
Hotels have also been offering special Christmas packages and not skimping on decorations. At the Shangri-La Hotel here a seven-metre Christmas tree imported from Florida dominates the lobby.
But the Christmas glitz cannot hide religious tensions that occasionally surge to the surface.
On Monday, police said they had defused a bomb near a church in the city of Palu in Central Sulawesi province.
In October Martinus Dogma Situmorang, the head of Indonesian bishops, said Islamic fundamentalists were attacking Christians with impunity, a month after dozens of worshippers were wounded in a suicide bombing of a packed church in Central Java province.
And in February, a 1,500-strong mob of Muslims set two churches alight and ransacked a third in the town of Temanggung, on Java island, as they demanded that a Christian man be sentenced to death for insulting Islam.
Authorities said they would deploy more than 80,000 policemen nationwide to ensure security over the Christmas period, most of them in regions with larger Christian populations.