Christmas in Asia:
No question, Christmas is the biggest, most festive holiday of the Christian world. Christmas celebrations are large, although not exclusively, more of a Western custom than anything else. So, then what does Christmas look like in Asia? Is it celebrated at all? If so, how is it celebrated, and what does it mean to most people in the Eastern world?
If celebrating Christmas were a contest, the Philippines would be the hands-down winner. A predominantly Christian (Catholic) nation, Filipinos are naturally festive people. They go all out for Christmas with houses, streets, stores and churches are all festooned with the customary Christmas decorations. It has always struck me as a bit odd it to see Frosty the Snowman in the lush tropics where the temperature never falls below 20 degrees Celsius even on the coldest day of the year.
In Vietnam, the last vestiges of the Christian French colonial influence are on the wane. Christmas is not an official holiday according to the Communist Government. But to their credit, the Government is fairly tolerant. Visitors will see some signs of Christmas, the occasional multi-coloured lights, trees and – of course – stores offering holiday discounts.
What about Japan, you ask? Well, the US cultural influence has touched the holiday season. Traditionally Buddhist, the big holiday in Japan is the Lunar New Year which falls six to eight weeks after Christmas. Japanese are tolerant of many western customs, including Christmas and New Year festivities.
In Hong Kong, which boasts a wide variety of religious celebrations, Christmas is widely embraced. The decorations go up on the high rise buildings in early November. As soon as Christmas is past, the same decorations switch to Chinese New Year, so it is possible to experience “holiday fatigue” in this already colourful city.
Indonesia, the most populous Islamic nation in the world, is remarkable in its attitude and acceptance of the Christmas spirit. There are a fair number of holiday signs, the occasional Christmas tree on display in shopping malls, and don’t be surprised to be sincerely wished a Merry Christmas by local Indonesians. The most striking Christmas memory I have is seeing a Muslim woman in a hijab that was decorated in Christmas themes.
In China, although Christmas is not a public holiday, it has become hugely popular, especially in large cities such as Shanghai. For most people, they celebrate Christmas without much religious attachment and use this time to enjoy the city’s Christmas markets and the Christmas deals at restaurants and bars. Interest fact: Apples with messages stencilled on the skin are the most Christmas present.
In many parts of the world, including the west, Christmas has lost much of its religious significance and has morphed into a general time of celebration, of being with family and exchanging gifts. People want to join in an important international celebration, and nowhere is this more prevalent than in Asia.
Merry Christmas dear reader!