Around the world, Christmas has become synonymous with a jolly Santa Claus, presents under a Christmas tree, and get-togethers with family and friends.
However, in Asia, while Christmas is celebrated with much enthusiasm in the cities – with malls being decorated and trees being lit up – not many Asian countries recognise Christmas as a public holiday. Many Asian countries have their own interpretations of how this religious holiday, which is also commercialised, should be celebrated.
While we have all gotten accustomed to seeing Santa Claus in a bright red suit, donning a hat and sitting on a sleigh, the image of Santa Claus is quite different in South Korea. Here, Santa Haraboji, as he is known, can be found wearing a blue suit and a Korean hat, also known as a gat, with the hanbok, a traditional Korean dress.
As only about 29% of South Koreans are Christians, the festive holiday does not hold significant religious connotations. Many who celebrate Christmas enjoy it as a commercialised holiday for relaxing, and couples tend to spend this day together rather than with family. Christmas gifts, usually money, are typically exchanged on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day.
Known as the country with the most prolonged Christmas celebrations globally, Filipinos start welcoming in the yuletide season in September! With a Christian demographic of more than 92%, Filipinos have their own set of traditions, many of which are embedded in religion, to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.
Elaborate nativity scenes are ubiquitous around the Philippines at Christmas, and carollers knock on doors in early December. It is normal to find churches full nine days before Christmas as people attend late-night and early-morning masses in the lead-up to Christmas. Unlike in the West, where parents get children to sleep on Christmas Eve so Santa can come and deliver presents, Filipinos wake up at midnight to enjoy a feast known as Noche Buena, which features iconic Filipino Christmas dishes.
In the Philippines, Christmas ends in January, after the Feast of the Three Kings commemoration.
With the majority of its population being agnostic, only about 7.4% of China’s citizens identify as Christian. Christmas is not a public holiday in the country, but it is celebrated across all the main cities as a commercialised celebration. Similar to Korea, this festive date is a special day for many couples, who almost liken it to Valentine's Day! Couples tend to spend this day together on a date, taking part in Christmas-themed activities.
Another unique tradition of Chinese Christmas celebrations involves apples. This tradition stems from the words “Christmas Eve”, which translate to ping'an ye (peaceful night) in Mandarin. The Mandarin word for apple is ping, hence the gifting of beautifully wrapped apples, with words of peace and love printed or painted on their skins, to family and friends at Christmas.
While Asia may not have the traditional white Christmas usually seen on television and in the movies, the region has developed its own unique styles of celebration that many embrace. The diversity in its celebrations across different countries makes Christmas a highly notable event in the area. After all, who is to say that there is only one way to celebrate such an iconic holiday?
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