Celebrating Easter in Indonesia with Margaretha Hanita

Gereja Katedral Jakarta (St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral) – Jakarta’s Roman Catholic Cathedral is also the seat of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Jakarta

With the Easter Holy Week just around the corner, we are keen to share a story about the Celebration of Easter in Jakarta, in particular from the point of view of a Christian Indonesian. Today we introduce you to Jakarta resident Margaretha Hanita who generously recounted her memories of growing up in a Catholic household in the World’s most populous Muslim country. 

Margaretha (left) during her Sunday School class in Salatiga (1982). Photo supplied by Margaretha’s mother Ibu Endang Siswardani (taken directly from the family album)

Margaretha recalls childhood memories of celebrating Easter with her family and friends, and the events which made this Holy Season significant. Margaretha shares insights into how she now celebrates Easter as an adult and mother of two, and the enduring importance of the Catholic Church and her faith in her life.

To those who celebrate, We wish you a joyful Easter.

Best wishes,

Jo and Liz.

*Kenalkan Margaretha Hanita

Meeting Margaretha Hanita

Hi Margaretha! Can you tell us a little bit about your adult self?

After high school in Semarang, I went to Bandung in West Java where I studied my undergraduate course. Following this I moved to Jakarta to study at the University of Indonesia, achieving my Doctorate in Politics. I now work as a lecturer at the University of Indonesia in the areas of Human Rights and Politics. I am also a Women’s Activist. 

I am married and have two children, my daughter Seline and my son Domeniko Safio.

Can you tell us about your childhood in Salatiga? 

I was born in the city of Salatiga in Central Java province, the middle of three children. Salatiga is located approximately 1 hour south of Semarang and is often called “one of the most tolerant cities in Indonesia” because more than 20 percent of the population are Christian (as compared with Jakarta where Christianity comprises no more than 11 percent of the population). Growing up in Salatiga, life was pretty quit unless it was ‘pulkam’ (‘pulang kampung’), when people returned home for festive occasions. 

I have one sister and one brother and from an early age we all sang in our parish choir. We attended a Catholic primary school and then I moved to Semarang for my Secondary education where I attended Kolese Loloya (a Jesuit school).

Margaretha (second from left) singing with her older sister, accompanied by her parents at her Church in Salatiga, Central Java (1985) – Photo supplied by Margaretha’s mother Ibu Endang Siswardani (taken directly from the family album)

Can you share something about your Christian heritage? 

I come from a long line of devout Catholics. Two of my Aunties are Catholic nuns and when I turned 10 years of age, my sister and I became altar girls. My husband was also an altar boy in his youth (also in Salatiga), and now our son is an altar boy at our parish church. 

Margaretha with her Aunty Sister Magdalinda, OSF (second from left), her mother Ibu Endang Siswardani (third from left) and her father Pak Cosmas Wibowo. (photo supplied by Margaretha Hanita)
Margaretha’s son, Domeniko (far right), with his fellow Altar servers. (photo supplied by Margaretha Hanita)

What are some of your early memories of Easter? 

As a child I attended Sunday School and then as a teenager I taught Sunday School. It is around Easter time that I miss my childhood. It makes me nostalgic for those memories of togetherness with my family, friends and our parish.  

In preparation for Easter we used to decorate our own baskets. They were normally made from simple baskets which we covered with paper, paint or anything that we felt made them look pretty. We also decorated real eggs. On Easter morning we would take our Easter baskets and enjoy our Mencari telur Paskah (Easter egg hunt). We would each collect an egg as well as candies and even cake!  Once the hunt was over we would make sure everyone had an even share of the treats. But there were never chocolate Easter eggs – they were extremely rare, especially because they were expensive. Afterwards we would all go to our family church.

Seven year old Margaretha (far right) together with her Sunday School friends proudly showing their Easter baskets. Photo supplied by Margaretha’s mother Ibu Endang Siswardani (taken directly from the family album)

What does the lead up to Easter Sunday look like for your family? 

Easter is a very busy time for my family. We acknowledge and are actively involved in each significant day in the lead up to Easter Sunday. My son who is an altar boy at our church in East Jakarta, has many commitments in the preparation for Easter celebrations. And although my daughter is currently at university, she teaches Sunday School on a weekly basis. 

Margaretha with her daughter Seline and son Domeniko. (photo supplied by Margaretha Hanita)

I sing with our Church choir, so we have many rehearsals. My brother and sister also sing in their respective parish choirs – song and giving thanks is so important to us. 

Unfortunately my Church is located far from my workplace and this can sometimes make it difficult to get home in time to attend services. If this is the case, I worship at a church closer to my office.

I particularly enjoy our Good Friday traditions. We come together to eat dinner and we always eat fish. I buy good fish from the pasar, most often freshwater ‘nila’ fish (tilapia), which I purchase live. My husband has his own secret bumbu recipe (spice blend) and he makes the best ikan bakar (barbecued fish). He never shares this recipe with anyone so it is an incentive for our extended family to come to our place on Good Friday to share in this dish.

On Good Friday in my home city of Salatiga, there is a stage performance of the Stations of the Cross. I think it usually starts around 10/11am. I’m sure there are also re-enactments of this in Semerang, and Yogyakarta. I recall attending the Stations of the Cross as a child. It was a very moving experience.

Margaretha with family members. (photo supplied by Margaretha Hanita)

What will Easter Sunday look like for you and your family this year? 

We will attend Sunday Mass at our parish, St Leo Agung Church. There’s roughly 2000 members so it will be very crowded. Luckily our church is extremely big. This year my brother and sister (and their families) will join us as well. Afterwards we will eat out at a restaurant. If there happens to be chocolate Easter eggs, they will be for the children only.

When we celebrate with my parents (be it at their home in Salatiga, or here in Jakarta), food is always Indonesian cuisine (like, Ayam opor, for example). But this Easter we will likely eat more Western-style food. 

Where do you buy your traditional Easter items such as Easter eggs, Easter buns etc.. 

To be honest, it’s not customary for us to celebrate with chocolate eggs or hot cross buns, although our children may receive a few chocolate eggs.

Can you provide some recommendations for those who are new to Jakarta and wish to enjoy the spirit of Easter this year?

It’s lovely to visit Jakarta’s Katedral (located just across the road from the Grand Mosque, Istiqlal). The celebration of Easter and Christmas at the Katedral is very famous. It has become so popular that you must book online to reserve a seat. The choir and the song is so passionate that many people are reduced to tears. On Good Friday the feeling is extremely moving. 

Inside Jakarta’s Catholic cathedral

Depending upon your Christian denomination, to find out times for worship during the Holy Week, I think it is best to search online. Below are a couple of websites which should get you started 🙂 :

All Saints Anglican Church, Jakarta

St Peter Canisius – International Catholic Parish, Jakarta

Thank you Margaretha for sharing your Easter traditions with us. We are so grateful for the insight into your childhood memories and the Easter traditions that you now share with your own family.
We wish you and your family a most holy Easter. – Jo & Liz xx

AJB’s Recommendations on where to buy Easter eggs, Hot Cross Buns and other Easter treats in Jakarta:

Eggs and other Chocolate treats

Pipiltin Chocolate
Marks and Spencer

Hot Cross Buns

Beau by Talita Setyadi
Chicory Patisserie

Other Easter Items (eg: decorations and limited Easter confectionary)

Various supermarkets including: Kemchicks, Ranchmarket, Hero Supermarket and Food Hall

Some interesting facts about Christianity in Indonesia

Did you know that over 87 percent of Indonesia’s population are Muslim? This makes Indonesia the largest Muslim nation in the World with more than 225 Million citizens practising Islam.

The balance of minority religions in Indonesia include Christianity (7 percent Protestant, 3% Catholicism), and less than 2 percent each of Hindu, Buddhism and Confucianism.

There are 24 million Christians in Indonesia of which many live in the Majority Christian provinces of Papua (83% of the population are Christian), West Papua (more than 60% are Christian), East Nusa Tenggara (90% are Christian, accounting for 18 percent of Indonesia’s total Christian population) and North Sulawesi (68% of the population are Christian).

Interested in more Easter-themed posts from A Journey Bespoke? Here are a couple we recommend you check out! Happy Easter friends 🙂

Celebrating Easter in Jakarta
How to Make Delicious Rocky Road this Easter

Liz, Margaretha, Judianti and Jo. Judianti introduced us to Margaretha and together we shared our childhood memories of Easter as well as current Easter traditions

*Kenalkan – Let me introduce..

Words: Jo Stevens      Photography: Margaretha Hanita and A Journey Bespoke

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