Asia is home to almost 4 billion people of diverse histories, cultures, and religions, and yet a common thread of merrymaking unites many Asian countries as December comes along. A lot of cultures have been influenced by American and European colonizers such that long after achieving sovereignty, certain practices remain. Technology, too, contributes to the rise of a global culture where political and cultural boundaries blur.
Therefore though Christians are a minority in Asia, and Christmas at its core is a religious celebration celebrated by this group, non-Christian Asians have secular ways of taking part in it. Christmas mood is infectious! There’s all that music, those brilliant, glorious lights, the decor, the gift-giving, and the sheer joy of it all. And let’s not forget Santa and Rudolph. It’s great fun, good for the soul, and good for business.
So how do Asians celebrate Christmas? In many different ways.
Christmas is called bada din (the big day) and is a state holiday here, much through British colonial influence. In Goa, Christians decorate mango trees or banana plants instead of fir, and light up some clay lanterns.
Christmas is a commercial season in Japan, and an opportunity for lovers to exchange gifts. It is pretty much a big deal, but it’s overshadowed by New Year’s which is an even bigger deal.
The Christian minority have low-key religious celebrations in China. Hong Kong and Macau, however — the former being and erstwhile territory of Britain, and the latter, of Portugal — are in full holiday gear, bedecked in all the trappings of Christmas, albeit just as a commercial peak season.
Same goes for Singapore, where there’s a Christmas Light-Up activity, wherein rivers of twinkling lights illuminate Orchard Road and Scotts Road, and leading the way to the malls.
A good 30 percent of its population Christian, so the Christmas celebration in South Korea is religious just as much as secular, perhaps even more so. Gifts are exchanged by everyone, and Santa drops in too, although he’s called Santa Haraboji in these parts.
As one of the two predominantly Christian Asian countries, folks here go truly over the top in their celebration, cramming 400 years of Spanish-Catholic influence and 40 years of secularized American Christmas traditions. Religious practices include novena dawn Masses called misa de gallo, Christmas Eve midnight Mass, and succeeding holidays that go on until the first Sunday after New Year’s, the feast of the Epiphany. Add Santa Claus, plastic Christmas fir trees, and Jingle Bell Rock into that mix, and you’ll get a general picture.