Christmas is perhaps one of the most widely-anticipated occasions in the whole world. It’s a time when people come together to share gifts and well-wishes that warm hearts amid the cold. But given our varying cultural backgrounds, there’s also bound to be differences in the way we celebrate the yuletide season. In case you’re wondering what it’s like in our region that’s populated by a diverse group of people, ahead we give you a peek of some Asian Christmas traditions.
Japan enjoys the Nativity in ways that are purely unique to their culture. Here, it isn’t a public holiday but the season is still widely celebrated, though without the religious undertones associated with the event. Rather than being a time reserved for family, Christmas is a day for couples to meet up and have a romantic date. Also, due to a marketing tactic in the 70s, feasting on a savoury bucket of KFC has also become a nationwide tradition. The first manager of Japan's first KFC store thought chicken would be a fine substitute to turkey, which is a popular Christmas fare in the West but not in Japan. Now, fried chicken has become a must-eat during the season that getting the KFC’s special Christmas offerings would require them to order weeks in advance. Aside from the savoury treat, a Christmas Cake — usually a strawberry shortcake — is a staple dessert eaten during their celebrations.
In the melting pot of cultures that is Singapore, the festive fun is felt on the streets. You know Christmas is coming in the Little Red Dot when you see every corner decked with dazzling decor starting November. The holiday installations in main shopping districts like Orchard Road are especially spectacular, reminding you to hit the malls and embody the spirit of giving. Friends and families often gather for Christmas feasts at home, feasting on traditional holiday dishes like turkey, sometimes with a flavourful Asian twist. Not to mention, delectable Yuletide menus served by dining establishments also add a twist to the city-state’s already-rich food scene. Lastly, with the Christmas and New Year around the corner, you’ll also find plenty having fun at special events like the iconic countdown party at Marina Bay Sands.
Indonesia may be the largest Muslim country in the world but the country is still home to a huge number of people of different faiths. A significant number of the population are Christians, making Christmas a widely-celebrated event in the archipelago. Like almost everywhere, it’s common here to see public spaces like malls and restaurants brightened up with Christmas decor. Friends also show their love by gifting sumptuous delicacies to one another. Given its diverse population, you’ll find regions celebrating Christmas with their unique traditions, making the occasion feel more local. In Yogyakarta, for example, they sometimes do a leather puppet show called Wayang Kulit, re-enacting the birth of Christ. Despite their differences, heart-warming unity prevails with the police and youth standing guard to protect churches throughout the nation as they hold mass to celebrate.
The holiday buzz also rings loud in Malaysia during December. The atmosphere in the country is made cheerful with malls dressing up their spaces with grand Christmas trees and sparkling lights. Malaysians from all walks of life enjoy the yuletide season by visiting their friends and spending time with their families. In the workplace, it’s common to have Secret Santa exchanges to get everyone into the festive vibe. Christmas is a time of giving, but it’s common to keep things practical by giving an ang pau or a red envelope filled with cash. But of course, living in the tropics can have us dreaming of a white Christmas. So during this season, it’s also common for Malaysian families to travel to winter destinations abroad.
Christmas is the most-anticipated holiday in the Philippines, which is one of only two Asian countries with a substantial Catholic population (the other is East Timor). Given that, as early as September, you'll find almost every space in the country clad in spectacular Christmas decorations with carols looping endlessly in the background. Christmas parties are held in different circles beginning December. As you get closer and closer to the occasion, you’ll find kids knocking on your doors, singing Christmas carols in hopes of being rewarded with coins. Nine days before Christmas, devout Catholics attend Simbang Gabi, a series of services held early in the morning, counting down the birth of Christ. And finally, on the eve, they attend a midnight mass called Misa de Gallo. Right after service, families return to their homes to enjoy their Noche Buena feast of Christmas ham, queso de bola and other local holiday faves served on the table.