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 and 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 of the 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 begins already on September 1st. Below you can find out our destination countries’ own specific sets of Christmas traditions.
Christianity is still relatively new in Korea, so Christmas is a newcomer to Korea as well. Korea has its own version of Santa Claus. Santa Haraboji, or Grandfather Santa, looks similar to the Western Santa, but he wears a traditional Korean hat (갓 gat) and a blue suit instead of 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:
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 the Christmas Eve is 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 (Dec 23, in 1989 Emperor Akihito became Japan’s 125th Emperor) falls on the 23rd of December.
In China Christmas has become more and more popular in large cities where a large number of expats live, and Western influence in greater. However, in smaller cities and countryside areas in China’s interior there are far fewer Christians and the people have had less contact with westerns, so Christmas is considered as 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.
Malaysia is amongst the top ranking countries per 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 has mainly commercial nature.
Over 90 % of the Thai population are Buddhist. Buddhism is tolerant of all other religions, including Christianity, and this religious tolerance is part of the reason why a major Christian festival such as Christmas can also be enjoyed by Buddhists in Thailand. Also a concept of Sanuk and enjoyment is very fundamental part of Thai culture. Thai people like to party and 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, where celebrations can continue until the end of the month!
Although Indonesia is a Muslim country, Christmas is celebrated by many. Christmas in Indonesian language 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 of Christian villages in Bali are located on the south of this island. In those villages, road decorations called penjor (made from yellow coconut leaves) will be made for Christmas, which symbolises Anantaboga dragon. Fireworks are part of the 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.
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 !