Seoul, South Korea – South Korea recognizes Christmas as a public holiday, with 30 percent of the population being Christians. Even non-Christian Koreans engage in gift-giving, card-sending, and plastic tree-decorating at this time of year, and engaging lights beautify the City Hall area for people to enjoy. What’s surprising is the locals treat the season to be a romantic affair, much like Valentine’s Day.
Manila, Philippines – For the predominantly Catholic Filipinos, Christmas is the highlight of the year. Department stores decorate their interiors and play Christmas jingles as early as September. Entire buildings and subdivisions are dressed in lights, and lantern makers ply their beautiful creations on the city streets. On the days approaching December 25, a popular activity is the Misa de Gallo, when the faithful attend mass before the sun rises. Christmas Eve is marked with a Midnight Mass and Noche Buena, a feast that is commonly shared within the family.
Saigon, Vietnam – despite the centuries of French-Catholic colonization of Vietnam, only a fraction of the population is Christian. Nevertheless, Christmas here is a big public event. Banners are draped all over Saigon greeting everyone during the Yuletide season, and even street vendors can be seen wearing Santa hats.
Bangkok, Thailand – Because Buddhism is the official religion of Thailand, Christmas is not a popular event here. Department stores and market places decorate their shops on the onset of the season.
Tokyo, Japan – less than 1 percent of Japan’s population are Christians, and December 25 is not a national holiday here. Christmas is seen more as a commercial season, a time for romance between couples and for corporations to deck their offices in lights. December is also a time for oseibo (end-of-the-year gift exchanges between companies) and boukenkai (”forget the year”) parties, and Christmas-themed parties tend to get mixed in with the celebrations. Christians constitute only 1 percent of Japanese population. Yet, most Japanese people decorate their homes and shops with evergreens during Christmas and exchange gifts. A priest called Hoteiosha acts like Santa Claus in Japan and distributes gifts and presents to all children, going door to door.
Hong Kong – Christmas coincides with the Ta Chiu, the Taoist festival of peace and renewal which is observed on December 27. The participants will call on all the deities and spirits so that their power will renew their lives. Priests will read aloud the names of the residents in the area from a list, then attach the list to a paper horse before burning it, sending the names on to heaven. In China, Christian children decorate trees with colorful paper ornaments in shapes of flowers, chains and lanterns. They hang muslin stockings for the Christmas Old Man to keep gifts and treats for them. There, Christmas trees are called ‘Trees of Light’ and Santa Claus is known as ‘Dun Che Lao Ren’, which means ‘Christmas Old Man.’ Non-Christian Chinese celebrate holiday season as the Spring Festival, paying respect to their elders and enjoy festivities and feasts. Children receive new clothes and toys, eat delicious food and enjoy firework displays and crackers.
Panaji, India – Though the majority of the Indian populace is Hindu, Christmas is much celebrated in the capital city of Indian state of Goa. Christians decorate mango or banana trees instead of fir trees, and a number of houses will light small clay lamps and display it on top of walls. Christmas is an important festival of India. It is celebrated differently in different parts of India.
Singapore – The Singapore Tourism Board celebrates Christmas in the Tropics, with the favorite activity being the Christmas Light-Up, when two of the country’s busiest roads are bedecked with chandeliers, lanterns, and lamps of all colors. Mall after mall try to outdo and outshine each other with their decors and lights.