In the upcoming festive season, we’ll be taking a look at how Christmas is perceived in Asian countries. Is it a big celebration occasion, or just a commercial festival? Is the exchanging of gifts common? What role does Santa play in Asian celebrations? We’ll dig into all of that and much more!
There are a couple of countries which have adopted Christmas as an official holiday, but in most of them, it’s rather secular event and not a religious one. In big Asian cities, however, you can often see lavish Christmas decorations, hear Christmas carols or even meet Santa Claus (or a variation of his). After all, this is a Western holiday, which does play a big role in Asian marketing — big shopping centers don’t miss the chance to introduce various sales and events during those occasions.
Christmas in Korea
Christmas is celebrated more widely in South Korea, as Christians make up about 30% of the population. It’s actually an official public holiday, although Koreans go back to work again on the 26th of December. Gifts are exchanged, in the forms of money and cards. The festive spirit is on point, as the streets are covered in Christmas lights and decorations. A common treat during Christmas in Korea is the so-called Christmas cake — a sponge cake with a lot of cream and fruits. You can often meet Santa Haraboji (산타 할아버지) or Grandfather Santa, who is usually dressed in blue.
The main religions in Japan are Buddhism and Shinto, so Christmas is more of a commercial event that Japanese people celebrate for fun. It’s common that adults give presents to their kids on Christmas Eve, rather than on Christmas day. As for the traditional food consumed on Christmas — Japanese people eat a lot of fried chicken, which is why restaurants such as KFC allow people to make orders in advance. Christmas cake, especially Strawberry shortcake, is also commonly seen in Japan during that time of the year.
Vietnamese Christmas celebrations
Only a small percentage of the Vietnamese population identifies as Christian, but that doesn’t stop the Vietnamese people from celebrating Christmas, especially on Christmas Eve. In order to enjoy a light show on Christmas Eve, young people crowd Nguyen Hue Avenue in Ho Chi Minh City. In Hanoi, people gather around St. Joseph Cathedral to do the same. As to what they do in order to celebrate — they throw confetti around, in addition to enjoying the colorful light shows and Christmas decorations.
Thailand and Christmas
Similar to Vietnam, there are not many Christians in Thailand. Despite that, many Thai people (especially those in Bangkok) do celebrate Christmas at a nice, usually outdoor restaurant if the weather permits or at home, with decorated Christmas trees and gift exchanges being common among friends and family. Most of the department stores also go above and beyond in decorating their buildings, competing with each other by running sales and constantly promoting them until the new year arrives.
Christmas in Philippines
As around 90% of the population in the Philippines is Christian, Christmas is celebrated well and loud in that region. Official Christmas celebrations start on the 16th of December, but you may start hearing Christmas carols as early as October. A traditional decoration in that country is the “parol” — a bamboo lantern with a lighted star on it, which represents the star that guided the Wise Men. Most people stay up all night on Christmas Eve until Christmas Day arrives, with Christians attending “Simbang Gabi” (the Christmas Eve mass), followed by a midnight feast called Noche Buena.
China and the Chinese New Year
Christmas isn’t an official holiday in China, so on those days, most people work as they would normally. More recently, the western idea of celebrating Christmas is becoming popular amongst the Chinese, and as a result, they’ve started to celebrate for fun. Shopping centers implement the Christmas theme in their sales and events, and you can see amazing decorations, especially in the big cities. On Christmas, it’s common to give colorful cellophane-wrapped apples as a present. As it turns out, the words for apple 苹果 (Píng Guǒ) and Christmas Eve 平安夜 (Ping’an Ye) sound almost the same.
All of this, though, is just a preparation for the Chinese New Year, also called the “Spring Festival”. It’s easily China’s most important festival and holiday period. The main activities during the Chinese New Year include putting up decorations, eating reunion dinner with family members on New Year’s Eve, setting off firecrackers or fireworks, giving out red envelopes and other lucky items that are usually colored in red.
So if you’re a fan of the unconventional, look no further than Asia when it comes to choosing a place where you should spend your Christmas holidays!