Christmas in The Philippines
Roughly 90% of Filipinos are Christian and 80% of those are Catholic; Christmas is therefore a major holiday in this South East Asian nation – festivities begin on December 16 with the 4am ‘mass of the rooster’ and culminate on January 6, with the Feast of Kings. One of the most significant religious rituals held during this period is known as Simbang Gabi. This traditional Filipino event consists of masses held each night for nine nights, finishing on Christmas Eve. Supposedly, once you have completed these nine masses, if you make a festive wish it is sure to come true!
Christmas Parols and Noche Buena in the Philippines
Just like in the West, the Filipinos also love their Christmas decorations but while you might not find many genuine Christmas trees you will find plenty of parols, stunning lanterns – often made in an attractive star shape – which are hung up in towns and villages, traditionally as a means of guiding people to dawn masses in places where there was no electricity. However you will also find many more westernised Christmas light displays – and of course the festive season isn’t complete without plenty of feasting! Christmas Eve or Noche Buena is the traditional day for having that extravagant Christmas meal in the Philippines and is the perfect occasion for all the family to gather round, eat, drink and be merry. Some of the more unusual dishes you might find during this time include the likes of bibingka (different kinds of rice cakes), keso de bola (balls of cheese covered in a red waxen coating) and buko, a salad of young coconut, a deliciously light and refreshing dessert.
Christmas in South Korea
South Korea is one of the only East Asian countries to declare Christmas a national holiday. 30% of the population are Christians so this religious celebration is quite a big deal; the country even hosts its own Christmas Tree Festival, held in Busan, where you will find plenty of trees – obviously – as well as vibrant light displays and art installations. On Christmas Eve in South Korea, there is a traditional night-time mass, after which churchgoers head home to exchange presents; meanwhile the evening of Christmas Day is a popular time for lovers to go out and enjoy a romantic meal together.
Santa Harboji in South Korea
In South Korea, Father Christmas is known as “Santa Haraboji” and he dresses very distinctively in red and blue rather than the ‘traditional’ Western red and white. South Koreans celebrating Christmas with a festive feast will eat such national favourites as kimchi, bulgogi and sweet potato noodles.
Christmas in Vietnam
Although Vietnam is not a predominantly Christian country, the Vietnamese are still keen to embrace the Christmas spirit. On Christmas Eve in Ho Chi Minh City you will find plenty of shining Christmas light displays and the city will be filled with a party atmosphere as many locals enjoy eating out, throwing confetti, watching light shows and admiring the various festive decorations which bedeck the city streets. In Vietnam there is also a traditional Midnight Mass for churchgoers and a special Christmas meal featuring dishes such as turkey, chicken soup and pudding. On Christmas Eve night, the children will place their shoes outside in the hopes that Santa might drop by a deposit a gift or two.
Christmas in India
Christmas is a popular holiday in India where it is celebrated by decorating banana or mango trees; in Mumbai, Christians may place a Nativity scene in their windows as well as beautiful star-shaped lanterns made of paper, while in the south, clay lamps are positioned on rooftops to represent the light of Christ. In the north-western part of the country, the Bhil people travel from village to village for a whole week during the Christmas period, singing carols. In Goa, Christmas is also celebrated with plenty of carol singing – not to mention feasting on rich, fruity Christmas cake and other sweet treats, ranging from dodol (a sort of toffee with cashew and coconut) to neureos (tasty little fried pastries filled with dried fruit and coconut). The main Christmas meal is eaten on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day – roast turkey, or perhaps chicken, is the dish of choice. Then people head out to attend the traditional Midnight Mass service before the bells start ringing to announce the arrival of Christmas Day itself.
Christmas in Thailand
Although Christmas is not a public holiday in Thailand, the big day is still a popular celebration in the country, along with other imported Western events such as Valentine’s Day and Halloween. You will find plenty of brightly illuminated Christmas displays, particularly in Bangkok, and many of the spirit houses which occupy a place in Thai homes or gardens will have a festive flair, being decorated with tinsel and fairy lights, perhaps even the odd Christmas hat. As you wander around the streets of the capital you are sure to find your fair share of decorated Christmas trees too, and Father Christmas himself may make an appearance; even your tuk tuk driver is likely to be clothed in seasonal gear, with a Santa hat perched on his head. On the 25 some Thais may give gifts to their children and cook a big festive meal, though the fare on offer is unlikely to be traditional Western dishes such as roast turkey or chicken.
Christmas in Japan
In Japan Christmas is not a religious event, more of a chance to enjoy a healthy amount of feasting and quality family time, as less than 1% of the population is Christian. However you are still likely to find plenty of trees and festive lights, and perhaps even some European-style Christmas markets in larger cities. Christmas cakes are a best-selling food item at this time of year and Japan’s KFC’s market their ‘Christmas Chicken Dinner’, a popular treat. Meanwhile the night of Christmas Eve is a popular occasion for lovers to enjoy a romantic meal out, and the ubiquitous exchanging of Christmas gifts is a big part of the holiday’s festive fun in this country.
Every year Hong Kong celebrates the festive season in style with WinterFest, a highly enjoyable event which creates a magical Christmas atmosphere complete with massive decorated tree, glittering decorations and delicious festive foods. WinterFest will be held this year from 5 December 2014 – 1 January 2015 and includes the exciting New Year countdown. Chinese Christians in Hong Kong will also be marking the holiday by attending church services, sending Christmas cards and decking the streets and their homes with festive decorations such as nativity scenes, streamers, paper chains and poinsettia flowers. In this corner of the world Father Christmas is known, variously, as ‘Sing Daan Lou Yan’ (in Cantonese) or, in Mandarin, ‘Sheng Dan Lo Ren’.