Christmas traditions in Asia

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Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Christmas is approaching fast!  For many of us living in parts of the world where Christianity has traditionally been the main religion, this season means buying Christmas presents, navigating through crowded malls, playing the Michael Bublé Christmas album way too much, and decorating Christmas trees. But what does Christmas look like for the rest of the world? More specifically, how is Christmas in Asia?

Asian countries have a smaller number of Christians and Catholics compared to the rest of the world. As a result, in many Asian countries, Christmas has a more secular view than a religious one. Christmas wreaths, Merry Christmas banners, colorful lights, and ornaments can be seen everywhere, since most of these decorations are made in China anyway. But in most Asian countries, Christmas is not recognized as a public holiday, which means that the offices as well as the schools, colleges, and universities remain open. Of course, this is not the case for all Asian countries. The Philippines, for example, is known for celebrating the world’s longest Christmas season, which began on September 1st. Below you can find out our destination countries’ own specific sets of Christmas traditions.

KOREA

Christianity is still relatively new in Korea, so Christmas is also a newcomer to Korea. Korea has its own version of Santa Claus.  Santa Haraboji, also known as Grandfather Santa, resembles the Western Santa Claus, but he wears a traditional Korean hat (gat) and a blue suit rather than a red one. Happy/Merry Christmas in Korean is ‘Meri krismas’ (메리크리스마스) or ‘Jeulgaeun krismas doeseyo’ (즐거운크리스마스되세요).

Tune into some Korean Christmas vibes in the following music video:

JAPAN

In Japan, Christmas is seen as a chance to spread happiness and good fortune rather than as a religious celebration. Christmas Day doesn’t get much attention at all, but Christmas Eve is commonly seen as a romantic day when couples get to spend time together and exchange presents. Christmas is not a public holiday in Japan, but the Emperor’s Birthday, which is a public holiday (December 23, 1989, when Emperor Akihito became Japan’s 125th Emperor), falls on the 23rd of December.

christmas-shopping-in-japan Christmas has widely become a great season for all the shopping centres as people rush to buy gifts to their loved ones. Japan is no different here, and the cities and mall like to do light decorations during the Christmas time.

CHINA

In China, Christmas has become more and more popular in large cities where a large number of expats live, with greater Western influence. However, in smaller cities and countryside areas in China’s interior, there are far fewer Christians, and the people have had less contact with westerners, so Christmas is considered a foreign mystery, especially for the older generations. Chinese children don’t normally leave out cookies and milk for Santa or write a letter detailing their wish list of toys. Colorful, cellophane-wrapped “Christmas apples” are a popular gift. The word “apple” apparently sounds like “peace” or “Christmas eve” in Mandarin.

christmas_in_china While the Chinese don’t traditionally celebrate Christmas, the western influence, especially so in the big cities, has made Christmas more visible also among Chinese. Christmas Eve, Shanghai.

MALAYSIA

Malaysia is among the top-ranking countries per the number of festivals celebrated year-round. With cultures ranging from Malay, Chinese, Eurasian and Indian, one can understand why so many festivals are celebrated. Although Christmas is a public holiday in Malaysia, it is mainly commercial.

Read more:

How international students enjoy a memorable Christmas in Malaysia!

christmas_in_malaysia In Malaysia Christmas is a public holiday, and all the massive shopping centers of Kuala Lumpur start preparing for the festive season well in advance.

THAILAND

Over 90 percent of the Thai population is Buddhist. Buddhism is accepting of all other religions, including Christianity. This is one reason why Buddhists in Thailand can also celebrate big Christian holidays like Christmas. Also, the concept of Sanuk and enjoyment is a very fundamental part of Thai culture. Thai people like to party, so any excuse for a celebration is gleefully seized upon. The religious meaning of Christmas is not important to most Thai people, but they know it’s a time when other countries are celebrating, and they are happy to join in with the party. The King’s birthday on the 5th of December is the biggest holiday at the end of the year, and celebrations can continue until the end of the month!

INDONESIA

Although Indonesia is a Muslim country, Christmas is celebrated by many. Christmas in Indonesian is known as Natal, from the Portuguese word for Christmas. In Bali, the Christmas tree is made from chicken feathers. This unique tree has been imported to some European countries. Most Christian villages in Bali are located on the south side of the island. Road decorations called penjor (made from yellow coconut leaves) will be made in those villages for Christmas, symbolizing the Anantaboga dragon. Fireworks are part of Indonesian Christmas traditions. In some islands, Christmas is often associated with bamboo cannons that are fired at almost every corner of the cities on Christmas Eve. Youngsters usually stay up the whole night on December 24 while playing fireworks.

christmas_in_baliwhen cultures collide. Many Indonesian islands have a small number of Christians because they were colonized by European countries. While non-Christians do not celebrate Christmas as a religious event, in most islands, especially in Bali with its Hindu majority (pictured), Christmas can be seen on the street scene.

Asia Exchange wishes you all Merry Christmast and Happy New Year / ‘Meri krismas’ 메리크리스마스 / Merikurisimasu メリークリスマス  / ‘Sheng Dan Kuai Le’  圣诞快乐’ / ‘sùk-sǎn wan krít-mâat’ สุขสันต์วันคริสต์มาส! / / Selamat Hari Natal / Selamat Natal !

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