Bali is one of the most popular places in the world to spend the holidays, and for good reason. It’s a tropical island with an abundance of great accommodation choices, fine dining, amazing nightlife, and some of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet. We were fortunate enough to spend Christmas and New Year’s in Bali last year while I was studying in the Darmasiswa program. Here’s a little story of our experience to give you an idea of what a Bali Christmas is really like.
First off, you may be wondering whether or not Balinese people celebrate Christmas. The short answer is no – most people are Hindu, with under 2% of people in Bali identifying as Christian on the last census. That being said, tourism fuels the island’s economy and Christmas is a big time to cash in. The big hotels and resorts deck their halls, shopping malls run holiday sales, and restaurants whip up special holiday menus. You won’t get a white Christmas in Bali, but you will get a festive environment that’s very welcoming of the holiday celebrations. You might even spot a Balinese Santa and his elves.
On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you’ve got countless options for a fancy meal. Most of the major hotels and resorts run special holiday buffets and they really go all out for them. For our Christmas brunch, we hit the Sanur Paradise Plaza Hotel in our favorite Bali beach town. They had an impressive spread with all the holiday fixings – turkey, ham, beef tenderloin, and even foie gras. Don’t overdue it on your first trip, because you’re definitely going to want to save room for dessert. There are cookies, cakes, brownies, parfaits, and just about every other sweet you could imagine.
The price tag for this epic holiday buffet? 278,000 Rupiah (around $21) per person. This included a glass of sangria along with unlimited tea and coffee. Beer, wine, cocktails, and champagne were all available for purchase, but we decided to dedicate all the room in our bellies to eating and save the boozin’ for later.
A Very Special Occasion
In Balinese culture, the full moon is a very significant day. Every month, there are elaborate ceremonies all across the island. The day of the full moon is known as Purnama, and colorful processions will make their way through towns and villages to the local temple. As fate would have it, the December full moon fell on Christmas Day last year. This was the first time it happened since 1977, and it won’t happen again until 2034.
As we were living in a super local village at the time, we felt very fortunate to be able to celebrate this important day in Balinese culture alongside our most important holiday. The incredibly nice family who runs the shop near the house we were living in invited us to join the ceremony in the temple, and even helped us use our silly hippie sarongs to at least sort-of dress the part.
While it wasn’t nearly as lively at the full moon ceremonies at the bigger temples such as Tanah Lot or Besakih, it was a special moment and a highlight of our time in Bali. As the only bule in the village and short-term residents at that, it was a wonderful feeling being welcomed in with open arms and invited to take part in their sacred day. Best of all, we didn’t have to stick around for an hour, eat crusty bread, and sing a bunch of boring songs.
It should come as no surprise that Bali gets down for New Year’s Eve. There are happenings all across the Island of the Gods, from giant parties at the trendy clubs in the south to spiritual retreats in Ubud. Just as with Christmas, many hotels have special NYE dinners and midnight countdown parties. The beach clubs of Seminyak are the place to be seen, with international DJs and a high price tag. You can drop $200 just to get in the door at Potato Head with all the fabulous people, or you can spend way less and still have just as good of a time.
To kick off our NYE in Bali, we made it to Double 6 beach with only a few minutes to spare before the last sunset of the year. Armed with a bottle of cheap rum, we bought a fresh young coconut, cracked it open, and made our own tropical cocktail. We like to call it the coco-rum-onut, and it’s the only way to go if you’re trying to catch a buzz on a budget. Mother Nature treated us to a gorgeous sunset as we sipped on our potent and refreshing beverage.
With the sun down, the party officially gets under way all up and down the coast of South Bali. Fireworks start to go off shortly after it gets dark and continue all the way until the wee hours of the morning. Beach bars light up, bands and DJs hit the stage, and the crowds start to file in in anticipation of the New Year countdown.
It was a special night for us, as our good friend Peter was visiting the island. I hadn’t seen him since we partied together in Bangkok a year or so earlier, and he and Rachel hadn’t hung out since way back in early 2011. We managed to track down a free party further up the beach in between Seminyak and Canggu, and we shared stories and cheap beachside Bintangs before heading there. Our former housemate who we lived with when our landlord got in a tragic, fatal accident also came out with his girlfriend to ring in the New Year with us. We all shared a toast in memory of our friend and proceeded to drink and dance the night away.
At midnight, a massive fireworks display filled the night sky as revelers welcomed in the New Year. Toes in the sand, a cold beer in one hand and my lady in the other, it was a great way to start the year. We’re a bit partial to spending our New Year’s Eves with our favorite bands, but Bali was a pretty adequate replacement.
Check out some of the highlights of the special full moon Christmas and an awesome New Year’s Eve in Bali in our short video and start planning your trip for 2017!