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Christmas in Asia

| Words by Ellena Johnstone |

From fire crackers, to swapping apples, to decorated mango trees… we look at the weird and wonderful ways some of our Asian destinations celebrate Christmas!

Notre Dame Cathedral

Vietnam

Despite being a predominantly Buddhist country, Christmas in Vietnam is celebrated with great enthusiasm. Christmas Eve is regarded as more important than Christmas Day, with many city-dwelling Vietnamese in Saigon and Hanoi attending midnight mass in cathedrals and churches. Most churches will erect a huge nativity scene – known as a crèche – outside their doors, with life-size statues of the nativity characters.

In Vietnam, children put their shoes outside the front door on Christmas Eve, hoping Santa Claus will fill them with goodies by the morning. In Vietnam, Santa is called 'Ông già Noel' which literally means ‘Christmas old man’!

India

There are over 25 million Christians in India, so Christmas is widely celebrated here! Midnight Mass is a very important part of festivities, particularly for Catholics. Families will attend mass, and then indulge in a huge feast, followed of course by presents! Churches in India are traditionally decorated with red Poinsettia flowers and candles for the services. Instead of traditional Christmas trees, mango or banana trees are often decorated instead, and the inside of homes decorated with banana leaves.

Markets in Siem Reap

Cambodia & Laos

Christmas is not widely celebrated in neither Cambodia nor Laos, given their very small Christian populations. However, Christmas lights are now erected in the larger cities, and Christmas fare is on sale in many of the markets and stalls in the run up Christmas.

Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka, Christmas literally starts with a bang on 1st December when fire crackers are let off at dawn! Like much of Asia, the focal point of celebrations is Christmas Eve, with midnight mass services held across the country. Christians will invite friends of all religious to their house for parties and feasting to mark the occasion. In Sri Lanka, Santa Claus is called Naththal Seeya.

Child

Thailand

Another predominantly Buddhist Country, Thailand has also only started to celebrate Christmas more recently. The majority of festive activities take place amongst school children, with singing, dancing, plays and party games used to mark the run up to Christmas. In Bangkok, light shows are becoming increasingly more popular, with Christians and Buddhists alike gathering to enjoy the city lit up with festive decorations.

Japan

Christmas has only been celebrated in Japan in more recent years, and is seen as a time to celebrate happiness and good fortune rather than a religious festival. Once again, Christmas Eve is considered the more important day, and in Japan is seen as romantic day, with young couples often taking walks to view the lights, and eating out in restaurants. In Japan, Christmas cake is not the traditional fruit cake, but a light sponge cake decorated with flowers, trees and a Santa Claus figure.

Acrobats of Shanghai

China

Christmas in China marks the arrival of winter, and Chinese people generally decorate their houses with lights, paper lanterns, paper flowers and lanterns to mark the festivities. While Christmas is predominantly celebrated in cities, it is slowly becoming better known in rural areas. In China Santa Claus is referred to as ‘Dun Che Lao Ren’ and children hang stockings hoping they will be filled on Christmas morning. A popular Christmas Eve tradition in China is giving apples, with many shops selling apples wrapped in colorful paper. Many believe this is because the Mandarin word for apple – ‘píngguo’ sounds much like the world for ‘peace’.

Mongolia

Christmas is not celebrated in Mongolia as it is a Buddhist nation so there are no decorations around towns or carols in the streets. But there is something distinctly “Christmas” about the nation – reindeer. The Dukha are a reindeer herding community who reside in the country’s north in Khovsgol Province. Although not easy to get to, the “undiscovered tribe” is often frequented by visitors.

Keen to experience Christmas in Asia for yourself? Look into one of our Asia small group journeys or talk to our Asia experts about a festive private itinerary.