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The Christmas traditions of Asia are a collection of religious practices by different religions occurring during the holiday period. Only a small fragment of the population of most countries in Asia are Christians, and their Xmas celebrations only take the form of church services and are sometimes overrun by secular New Year celebrations. It is only in schools run by Christian missionaries, except in Christian Asian countries, that children and their parents actively participate in Xmas celebrations.


The major religions in Japan are Buddhism and Shinto, so Christmas is more of a commercial event that Japanese people celebrate for fun. It is common for Japanese parents to give Christmas presents to their children and this exchange happens on Christmas Eve, not Christmas day. However, adults don’t usually give gifts to each other as they keep to the notion that only Santa brings presents... because it is true!

South Korea

Christmas is celebrated more widely in South Korea as Christians make up about 30% of the population. However, the other 70% of people in South Korea are Buddhist (about 25%) or don't have a religion so if they do celebrate Christmas, it is more for the joyous sentiment the holidays bring. Also, it is recognized as a public holiday. Thus, many non-Christian Koreans sometimes engage in gift-giving, Christmas cards and trees because children enjoy Santa Haraboji or Grandfather Santa, their version of Santa Claus. The Christians carol after Xmas Eve services among their church members.


Christmas is big in the Philippines mostly because a large percentage of the population is of the Christian faith (around 90%). Formal Christmas celebrations start on 16th December when many Filipino's go to the first of nine early morning masses, the last being on Christmas day. However, Christmas decorations and the playing of Christmas carols in shops can surface as early as September! The Christmas celebrations continue to the 1st Sunday in January when 'Epiphany' or the 'Feast of the Three Kings' is celebrated. You will see star shaped lanterns called ‘paróls’ traditionally made of bamboo and paper everywhere at Christmas time in the Philippines. The lanterns depict the Star of Bethlehem and evoke a sense of goodwill and hope for the Filipino people.


Chinese New Year is the Chinese version of Christmas and the biggest holiday, but many Chinese people still get in the holiday spirit around the 25th December just for fun. The western style of Christmas as we know it is more prominent in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. Chinese children don’t normally leave out cookies and milk for Santa, grass for the reindeer or write a letter detailing their heartfelt wishes, but they can get their photo with the friendly white-bearded father at some department stores. Colourful, cellophane-wrapped 'Christmas apples' are a popular gift. The word "apple" apparently sounds like "Christmas eve" in Mandarin.


Christmas is not widely celebrated in Thailand and the 25th is just a normal working day. Thailand is about 85% Buddhist, 14% Muslim and the remaining 1% accounts for other religions and non-religious citizens. The former King's birthday on the 5th of December, was the biggest holiday at the end of the year, where celebrations can continue until the end of the month. Christmas decorations can be seen in Bangkok and major tourist hot spots but it’s more of a commercial exercise.


Only a small amount of the Vietnamese population identifies as Christian, but that doesn’t stop the Vietnamese people celebrating the spirit of Christmas, predominantly on Christmas Eve. In Vietnam’s largest city, Ho Chi Minh City people like to go into the city centre on Christmas Eve to enjoy the light shows, eat out, throw confetti, take pictures and enjoy the Christmas decorations. Vietnam was once part of the French Empire and there are still French influences in the Christmas traditions.

Sources : SBS POPASIA, All Things Christmas