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Christmas across Asia: How Thailand’s neighbours celebrate

Maya Taylor




Those of us living in Thailand (and those who holiday here in more “normal” times), are familiar with what Christmas looks like in the Land of Smiles. But what about other Asian countries? Here’s a round-up of what the festive season looks like for some of our neighbours.

Despite being a primarily Muslim nation, Christmas is celebrated by many in Indonesia. A history of colonisation by European settlers means the country is home to a minority Christian population. In Bali, this community is found primarily in the south of the island, where it’s traditional to have a Christmas tree made of chicken feathers and streets decorated with yellow coconut leaves, known as penjor.

Fireworks are also a big part of Indonesia’s Christmas celebrations, with children often allowed to stay up all night on Christmas Eve watching the spectacle. About 10% of Indonesians identify as Christian.

Christmas is becoming more popular in China’s larger cities, due primarily to the influence of resident expats. While Chinese children don’t write to Santa, or leave him cookies and milk on Christmas Eve, “peace apples” are popular. These are decoratively-wrapped apples, which are given as gifts.

The reason behind this is apparently because the word for apple sounds like the words “peace” and “Christmas Eve” in Mandarin. Travel outside the big cities however, and into the Chinese heartland, and you will meet people who have had far less interaction with Westerners, and for whom Christmas remains a mystery. This is particularly true of the older generation.

South Korea
South Korea is one of a few Asian countries in which Christmas Day is a public holiday, with around 29% of the country’s population being Christian. Despite Christmas being a “newish” holiday, South Koreans have their own version of Father Christmas, known as Santa Haraboji (Grandfather Santa). While similar to the Western version we’re familiar with, South Korea’s Santa wears a green suit and tops it off with a gat, the traditional Korean hat.

The Japanese see Christmas as an opportunity to spread good luck and happiness, rather than as a religious festival. Christmas Eve is the main event, when romantic couples traditionally exchange presents. Although Christmas Day is not a public holiday, December 23 is, as it celebrates the Emperor’s birthday.

As with many parts of the world, Christmas is also an excuse for shopping, with brightly-decorated malls filled with people looking for gifts for family and friends.

Being the multicultural melting pot it is, Malaysia celebrates Malay, Chinese, Eurasian and Indian festivals throughout the year, and Christmas is no exception. Christmas Day is a public holiday, but the festive season takes on a more commercial aspect with lesser focus on the religious aspects in the majority Muslim country. Shopping malls in big cities like Kuala Lumpur start getting ready well in advance and you can expect to see them all decorated with giant Christmas trees, Santa figures, and twinkling lights.

SOURCE: Asia Exchange


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  1. Avatar


    Friday, December 25, 2020 at 4:14 pm

    You forgot Vietnam. There are quite a lot of Christians in the country. Christmas is celebrated although it is not a national holiday. However, festive decorations are getting more popular each year.
    Funny anecdote. When the missionaries arrived in the country they had trouble of teaching the concept of the holy trinity. Presumably there weren’t any white doves in Vietnam or the local people confused it with the legendary phoenix. You have to admit the inventiveness of the first Clerics to spread the word. They used a white dog instead to represent the holy spirit. Although I never seen it depicted in a church I have been told that it is still worshipped today in some places.

    • Avatar


      Saturday, December 26, 2020 at 1:06 am

      Bit dicey to be an Xmas dog in Vietnam… Chances are you’ll be served up for Xmas lunch

  2. Avatar


    Saturday, December 26, 2020 at 1:11 am

    You intentionally did not include the Philippines and Vietnam or Cambodia which are all closer to Thailand. How annoying!

  3. Avatar


    Monday, February 1, 2021 at 5:07 am

    I love that Christmas is celebrated in a lot of countries, but with many, it’s not about religion, but about business and trade.
    It is also indicative of how misguided political correctness is and how it is ruining parts of daily life – remember all the “can’t celebrate because it will offend Muslims” etc?

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