Where To Spend Christmas in Asia

Dec 23, 2020 | Adventure Travel, Backpacking, Group Tours, India, Indonesia, Japan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Travel Tips

Christmas is a wonderful time of year and every family has its own Christmas traditions. Whether it’s decorating the Christmas tree together, watching ‘The Grinch’ under 5 layers of blankets or chucking a shrimp on the barbie! Each family has its own tradition, and of course, each country does too. If you’ve ever thought about celebrating the festive period in an exotic country, have a read through of our guide to spending Christmas in Asia below! Your 2021 festive plans are about to get a whole lot more exciting.

 

JAPAN:

This might seem bizarre but Japan has only broadly celebrated Christmas in the past few decades. As Shintoism and Buddhism are the primary religions in Japan, Christmas is seen as a time of spreading love and happiness, rather than a religious holiday. Christmas Eve is actually a bigger deal than Christmas day in Japan, and could be compared to Valentine’s day in western countries. Seen as a romantic day, couples exchange gifts and go for candle lit dinners and evening strolls to admire the Christmas lights. Although Christmas Day isn’t a national holiday for religious reasons, it just so happens that the Emperor’s birthday falls on the 23rd of December, and that is definitely worth a national holiday!

Now, this wouldn’t be Japan if there wasn’t a funky food tradition thrown in there. KFC is now considered a Christmas food in Japan, after a campaign in the 70’s called ‘Kentucky for Christmas’. It’s so popular, people line up around the block to get their Christmas KFC! Speaking of food, did you also know the ‘shortcake’ emoji [🍰] is actually based on a Japanese Christmas cake? Instead of the western fruit cake doused in alcohol, the Japanese’ Christmas cake is a sponge cake with strawberries and whipped cream. If you want to spend Christmas in Asia but you’re used to colder festivities, head to Japan for the chance of snow and the opportunity to snuggle up or celebrate the holidays in an onsen!

Merry Christmas in Japanese: Merii Kurisumasu

THE PHILIPPINES:

If you go to The Philippines anytime from September, you may be a little confused! Don’t worry, you didn’t somehow just skip forward 2 months… or rewind time for that matter. Filipinos start counting down to Christmas from the 1st September, and the celebrations go on for 4 months! The playing of Christmas music in shops can start in September and will keep going until January. However, things start to ramp up formally on the 16th December. Many people start attending pre-dawn masses everyday, with the final mass on Christmas day. The Feast of the Three Kings or Epiphany on the first Sunday of January marks the end of the festivities… for 7 months, then it starts all over again! If you’re considering spending Christmas in Asia, head to the Philippines for a tropical festive period you won’t forget.

Merry Christmas in Tagalog: Maligayang Pasko

 

INDIA:

Only around 5% of India’s population is Christian, but with a total population of 1.4bn people, that 5% makes up a lot of people! In India, Santa delivers his presents to children via a traditional horse and cart. Depending on the language, he is either known as Father Christmas, Christmas Elder Man, Christmas Old Man or Christmas Papa. The Christmas celebrations centre more around Christmas Eve than Christmas Day, with Midnight Mass being a huge deal. Traditionally Catholics will fast from the 1st of December until Midnight Mass on the 24th December. Depending on the region of India, there is a huge feast of local delicacies and the giving and receiving of presents either just before or straight after Midnight Mass. For a ‘traditional’ Christmas Tree, Indians decorate a banana or mango tree and sometimes will use mango leaves to decorate their homes! Christians in Goa will hang out giant star shaped paper lanterns between their houses so it feels that the stars are floating above you as you walk.

Merry Christmas in Hindi: Śubh krisamas
Merry Christmas in Punjabi: Karisama te nawāṃ sāla khušayāṃwālā hewe

 

SRI LANKA:

Christians in Sri Lanka mark the start of the festive season by letting off firecrackers at dawn on the 1st December, and then attend a Midnight Mass. Even though Sri Lanka is a predominantly Buddhist country, with only 7% of the population being Christian, Buddhists still widely take part in the celebrations. Young children decorate Christmas trees, hang festive lights and Santa Claus is seen at many malls across the country. Sri Lankans tuck into a ‘western’ style Christmas dinner consisting of turkey, mince pies, Christmas pudding and all the trimmings. It is custom that Christian households share their feasts with non-Christians, by bringing them a platter of Christmas dinner foods over the festive period.

Merry Christmas in Tamil: Kiṟistumas vāḻttukkaḷ
Merry Christmas in Sinhala: Suba Naththalak Wewa

 

INDONESIA:

Only 10% of the population in Indonesia are Christian, but that’s still a whopping 20 million people! Christmas is a huge deal in Indonesia. As you might expect, there are many different local traditions in the different regions. In Papua, Christmas dinner is typically pork, cooked between hot stones in the ground, called Barapen. In Bali, the streets are lined with decorations made from yellow coconut leaves and the Christmas trees are uniquely made from chicken feathers. In Toraja, the start of Christmas is marked with the Lovely December festival; teamed with dancing, local foods and traditional bamboo music. The end of Christmas is symbolised with huge firework displays and a procession is held on the 26th December.

Merry Christmas in Indonesian: Selamat Natal

 

So, which destination will you be spending your festive season in next year? We run trips to Japan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and India – just take your pick! Christmas in Asia, doesn’t sound like a bad idea to us…

WRITTEN BY: Olivia Cameron

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