‘Tis the season to be jolly as citizens worldwide anticipate the arguably biggest holiday of the year. Since Christmas is rooted in Christianity and there are several faiths out there, people of different backgrounds have their respective ways to celebrate it. In a region where diversity is at its finest, most Asians, regardless of their location, are still keen on celebrating it. After all, the thought of it almost automatically prompts pleasant feelings.
Now, let us take a look at how Asians think about Christmas and how they celebrate it!
For Filipinos (Philippines)
The Philippines caters to big Christian and Catholic populations which is why Christmas is a grand celebration that is celebrated as early as September. A lot of decorations from one home to another are a usual sight alongside street festivities. The famous parol or a star-shaped lantern made of bamboo and paper can be seen everywhere in the country. It symbolizes the Star of Bethlehem that hopefully will bring hope to those who see it.
Usually, Filipinos wait all night on Christmas eve until Christmas Day comes. Catholics also attend a Christmas Eve Mass after Simbang Gabi which is a nine-day series of Masses. Then, everyone gathers for noche buena, a midnight feast enjoyed by family and friends.
For Japanese (Japan)
Unlike the Philippines, there is fewer Christian population in Japan, so the Japanese perceive Christmas in a commercialized manner. Most are Buddhists and Shinto followers, so it is more of a fun day rather than holy. It is popularly celebrated with a Christmas cake which is a sponge cake with whipped cream and fruit toppings and some fried chicken.
Interestingly, Christmas Eve is seen romantically similar to Valentine’s Day where couples exchange gifts. Moreover, they have a Santa Claus counterpart called Hoteiosho who is also an old man with a huge sack but with eyes at the back of his head. Children are taught to behave when he’s around. Overall, Christmas in Japan is a relatively chill day, literally and figuratively.
For Koreans (South Korea)
The majority of the Korean populace are Buddhists while around 30% are Christians. Regardless, Christmas is still a holiday for all. Though, their winter break still occurs on New Year. Several events are brought to life during Christmas such as themed decors in amusement parks, cultural activities, carols, and Christmas Tree Festival among others.
Instead of gift exchanges, holding potluck dinners among family members is more common. Everyone brings their own dishes and gleefully spends quality time with each other.
For Indians (India)
Due to British influences, Christmas is considered a state holiday in India where people plant trees and decorate their existing banana or mango trees. Northern India calls Christmas Badaa Din or Big Day. Its smallest state, Goa, on the other hand, has a grand celebration for it.
Christians also attend a midnight mass and family members come together for a Christmas Eve meal where a chicken or roast turkey is expected to be served.
For Singaporeans (Singapore)
Since Singapore caters to all religions, it celebrates Christmas as a public holiday, especially by Indian and Chinese Christians which can be attributed to Brit-colonial history. It puts up flashy decorations in various commercial areas and even fireworks displays for all to enjoy. Exchange gifts, partying, and group dinners are also popular.
For Vietnamese (Vietnam)
There are only a few Vietnamese who are practicing Christianity, so it is not a public holiday among them. Regardless, it is celebrated primarily in Ho Chi Minh due to French colonial history. There are also Catholic communities that build nativity crib scenes in front of their residences.
Though, they are mostly not into gift giving but sending greeting cards and sharing a buche de noel which is a log-shaped chocolate cake that is famous among the younger generation. People are also into throwing confetti, enjoying gatherings, and appreciating city decor during this season.
For Thai (Thailand)
Only around 1% are Christians in Thailand so it is no wonder that Christmas is also not widely celebrated among Thai people. Though, since their King’s birthday is on December 5th which is the biggest holiday of the month, it can continue until past Christmas Day.
Meanwhile, many can still feel the Christmas air with lavish decorations in tourist spots such as Bangkok and many special performances.
For Chinese (China)
Similar to Thailand, Christmas is not an official holiday in China and its celebration has only begun in the past couple of decades mainly in richer areas like Shanghai. Though, celebrations that are similar to Western countries can be seen in Macau and Hong Kong. It is safe to say that Christmas is not a big thing in China compared to its neighboring countries since businesses don’t also busy themselves putting up lights or promo sales.
Still, there are occasional performances featuring Santa who is known as the Old Man of Christmas together with two female elves. A popular gift among Chinese people is colorful cellophane-wrapped Christmas apples. Apparently, apple in Mandarin “píngguŏ” is similar to the translation of Christmas Eve “Ping’an Ye” meaning peaceful evening. Despite the limited hype, it is interesting to note that China remains to be the biggest exporter of Christmas decorations worldwide.
There are certainly several ways to celebrate Christmas. Regardless of the difference in views and manner of celebration, the spirit of giving and the value of family are present in every culture which makes it special. This is, perhaps, the true meaning of Christmas.