How Christmas is celebrated in Asia

The year-end festivities are perhaps that which everyone around the world anticipates with eyes and arms wide open, especially Christmas. As a traveller around Asia, you need not worry about missing out on the yuletide glee. Only thing, you would be experiencing have a few different traditions and practices, here and there.


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‘Kurimasu ni wa Kentakki!!!’

Although Christmas is not a national holiday, that has never stopped the Japanese from celebrating the occasion. The difference? Instead of eating the traditional turkey, they commemorate the festivities with Kentucky Fried Chicken!

Why is KFC the food of choice when it comes to observing the birth of baby Jesus? In 1974, KFC went all out with a Christmas campaign after a group of foreigners in Japan settled for KFC when their attempts to find turkey were futile, and the campaign was a hit. Since then, Japanese families place orders for a bucket of KFC with all the trimmings (cake and champagne) way before the start of the holidays lest they find themselves KFC-less on the 25th. Word has it that some pre-order their meal months in advance, just to be safe.

If you’re in Tokyo, check out Ginza, Roppongi or Hibiya at night for pretty Christmas lights and decorations.

The Philippines

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If you are really looking to celebrate all things Christmas in Asia, from the birth of Christ to Santa Claus, The Philippines is your best bet. Once under the Spanish, a huge percentage of Filipinos are either Catholics or Christians and because of this, they observe the Christmas festivities well, religiously.

Perhaps the most anticipated occasion in the Filipino calendar, the Christmas festivities start on the 16th of December with the ‘Misa De Gallo,’ nine days of pre-dawn masses leading up to Christmas Day and then Christmas is celebrated all the way until the Feast of the Three Kings, the first Sunday of January.

During this festivities, Filipinos decorate their houses and streets with parol or Philippine Christmas star-shaped lanterns made out of bamboo and paper. When night falls, expect to see places come to life with all the colours and Christmas themed lights found in every corner. A jubilee of lights, fun and food, Christmas is one giant party in The Philippines.


Image by Peter Pham

Heavily influenced by the French, Christmas is celebrated by all religious communities. A festival for all, Christmas is one of the four biggest occasions in the country amongst the birthday of the Buddha, The Lunar New Year and the Mid-Autumn Festival. During this period, churches are decorated with life-sized scenes of the nativity, known as ‘creche,’ and houses draped with fancy lights.

When it comes to feasting, the ‘revellion,‘ a Christmas Eve feast is shared with family and friends, featuring the ‘bûche de Noël’ or yule log. Christmas Day is then spent outside the house and on the streets of the city with their families. Expect to experience a different kind of Christmas when you see hundreds of locals celebrate in places like the park surrounding the Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi.


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Known as ‘Bada Din,’ Christmas in India is a national holiday. During this season, families decorate mango and banana trees outside their houses the same way fir or pine trees are decorated in Western countries and like everywhere else in the world, a feast ensues. The only difference, you’ll find staple curry dishes on the spread.

As more than a quarter of its population consists of either Christians or Catholics, Goa is perhaps the best place to celebrate Christmas in India due to the influence of the Portuguese in that region. Pay a visit to the Old Portuguese churches for Christmas carols and Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.

Hong Kong

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Voted one of the best places to spend Christmas in the world by CNN, you will never be short when it comes to the Christmas cheer in Hong Kong as the Hong Kong WinterFest takes over the entire country. Almost everywhere, you will find skyscrapers decorated with lights depicting Santa Claus and Frosty the Snowman, Christmas carollers and performances.

One of the highlights of the season would be the Christmas Symphony of Lights, a spectacular light and sound performance. A must see for those wanting to paint the town red. The best place to do so would be Sky100, a 360-degree observation deck on the 100th floor of the International Commerce Centre.

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