The number of Christians in the world has nearly quadrupled in the last century to the point where there are now more than two billion Christians on this planet. That’s more due to the increase in the world’s population than anything else, but it does mean something: Christmas is a pretty big deal in many parts of the world.
But what about Asia? Many Asian countries aren’t predominantly Christian – only two, actually – but there are a few that celebrate the holiday regardless.
We at Nezasa wanted to share with you how Christmas is celebrated in several destination countries in our list:
You thought Christmas celebrations – or decorations at least – started early in the Western world? Think again. The Philippines can boast the world’s longest Christmas season, with carols being sung as early as September and lasting through to January, ending either with the Epiphany on the first Sunday of the new year or the Feast of the Santo Niño de Cebú on the third Sunday of January.
OK, that’s unofficial stuff. But even officially, the official observance of the holiday by the Church in the Philippines is from the beginning of the Simbang Gabi on December 16 through to Epiphany.
As in many celebrations worldwide, potlucks, office parties and midnight masses are common throughout, with families gathering on the day itself.
Christmas is officially banned in China – along with the accompanying religion itself – but it’s still an occasion in the world’s most populated country. It’s treated more as a celebratory rather than religious festivity – with going out and being with family and friends, ice skating, amusement parks, karaoke and shopping being popular pastimes. And they do have the Santas-in-white-beards everywhere, particularly in the former Western colonies of Macau and Hong Kong where it is designated a public holiday.
Christmas is not a national holiday here either, although festivities do occur with secular celebrations including Japanese Christmas cake – a white sponge cake covered with cream and strawberries – and Stollen cake being served. It is also presented as a more romantic than religious tradition in popular culture.
A fun fact: Back in the 1970s, KFC launched an advertising campaign in Japan promoting the coolness factor of eating at KFC at Christmas and making it a national custom. Now, KFC restaurants and stores in Japan take reservations months in advance.
India’s status as a former British colony means many British traditions still last to this day in the world’s second-most populous country. Although just 2.3% of the 1.2-billion-strong population is officially Christian, it’s still a state holiday here and many Christian houses celebrate with sweets, cakes, songs, school programs and general celebration. Even other religions in India are starting to take on the tradition.
As in India, Christmas is a national holiday in the mostly Buddhist Sri Lanka despite being home to a small number of Christians (7% of the total population). Much of this is due to the large influence of European colonizers since the 1500s including the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British. Festivities begin early here with firecrackers at dawn on December 1, and many shopping centres and streets have Christmas trees in them. Office parties and dinner dances are also common.
Christmas isn’t an official holiday here, but the legendary Thai hospitality means that many hotel staff will be seen wearing Christmas hats and shopping malls are decked out with decorations. Thai schoolkids learning English will ply their newly learned linguistic skills with a rousing rendition of Jingle Bells. The reason for such an overt celebration has been attributed to the open-minded acceptance of other religions in Buddhist culture as well as the famed Thai penchant for celebrating for celebration’s sake.
Cars are barred from the centre of Ho Chi Minh city on Christmas Eve to make way for the throngs of people – mostly young – who gather to throw confetti, take pictures and enjoy the festivities. The country’s French influences are readily apparent here, and many French Christmas traditions are present here, including the special Christmas Eve meal called reveillon with a bûche de Noël (a chocolate cake in the shape of a log) for dessert.
We at Nezasa wish you all the very best for a magnificent holiday and the very best for 2015!