Considered as a widely celebrated holiday, Christmas is a yearly celebration that commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ generally celebrated on December 25. Christmas in Asia is mostly Christian in nature. Christianity originated from the teachings of Jesus Christ and was spread through the missionary work of his apostles, which started in Jerusalem. In Asia, the Philippines and East Timor are the only two countries where Christianity is the predominant religion, with significant minorities in Syria, Indonesia, China, South Korea, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Palestine, and several others.
Christmas celebration in the Philippines starts on the 16th December with the first of nine early morning masses known as Misa de Gallo. In Bethlehem, a town in Palestine, which is believed to be the birthplace of Jesus, the Mass of Nativity is the most famous part of the celebration. It is held in the Church of the Nativity in the afternoon, evening and at midnight on Christmas Eve by the Roman Catholic Bishop of Jerusalem. Vietnamese Christians also attend the Midnight Mass and would return to their homes to have a special Christmas meal. In Asia, Christmas is usually celebrated by the family getting together on the day for a large meal.
The advent of Christmas in the Philippines, which celebrates the longest Christmas traditions of Asia, is ushered by dawn masses. Star-shaped lanterns called “parols” are the most popular Christmas decoration displayed in the windows of most homes. Filipinos decorate their homes with candles and wreaths and colorful lights as well as the streets and shopping malls for this occasion. They also do not sleep in the night between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day because the feast on Christmas Eve starts after midnight.
Christians in India decorate a mango or banana tree. Sometimes, they use mango leaves as home Christmas decorations. In South India, Christian people put small clay lamps on flat roofs and wall of their houses. Members of Syrian Christian family stand around a bonfire with a lit candle in their hands on Christmas Eve and the youngest child or son of the family reads the Christmas story from the Bible.
In some Asian countries, there are only a small percentage of people who are Christians but there is no stopping them from celebrating the holiday traditions. If you are looking for a festival celebrated all over the world with a different twist, Christmas in Asia is a perfect choice to take a picture or record a video.
In non-Christian countries, children and adults who are Christians only participate the occasion in schools run by Christian missionaries. In Thailand, where less than 1% of the population is Christian, majority of Christmas activities is also restricted to schools only. The Christian population is comparatively low in Indonesia and Thailand but it is still well celebrated in these places. In China and Taiwan, meanwhile, Christmas is a private celebration. There are no Christmas traditions of Asia celebrated in Muslim countries. However, some countries like Jordan allow Christians to celebrate Christmas traditions. There is actually a lot of variation in the way Christmas is celebrated because it is not an official holiday in most countries. The celebration is purely secular in Malaysia because there is an unofficial ban on Christian religious motif but it is a public holiday in the country as well as in South Korea.
There are also Western customs and traditions visible in most Asian countries such as exchanging of gifts, thanksgiving, singing carols, decorating their house and Christmas trees. A lot of places will have fireworks and parades on Christmas as well.
There are some areas where Santa Claus is a part of the tradition. In Korea, their version of Santa Claus wears red and blue clothes and is called Santa Haraboji or Grandfather Santa. The Japanese do not have Santa Claus or Saint Nicholas. However, they do have a person called “Hoteiosho”, an old man carrying a big sack with eyes in the back of his head. Santa Claus is known as Lan Khoong or Dun Che Lao Ren with his reindeer in Hong Kong.
There is no denying that religious practices by different religions taking place during the holiday period have clearly contributed to the quality of being one of a kind Christmas traditions in Asia. Christmas in Asia has largely become a secular and commercial holiday while celebrations take the form of church services. The purpose of the holiday in a lot of places seems to be to give and receive gifts. However, Christians tend to take on a more religious tone compared to their non-Christian counterparts.
In conclusion, the Christmas traditions observed across the continent are very diverse depending on the dominant religion and beliefs in the country. Despite such differences however, the universal joy and happiness that is evident in the various celebrations in Asia remain evident in the power and influence of Christmas in their hearts.