It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas in the Western hemisphere. Stores are decked out in holiday cheer, Christmas trees are up in homes, and people are busy preparing for holiday parties and gatherings. But what about in Asia? How do countries in the East celebrate Christmas? Interestingly enough, while Christmas is considered a Western Christian holiday, Asia countries have long taken to the festivities too. In fact, many celebrate much like in the West, with family gathered around with a meal to share, while in some countries they’ve made some traditions of their own. Let's take a look at a few Asian Christmas traditions from around the world.
Japan - KFC For Dinner
In Japan, Christmas Eve is celebrated much like it is in America—with a big dinner and presents exchanged between family and friends. However, instead of the traditional turkey dinner, many Japanese families opt for something a little more out of the ordinary. It’s not uncommon for Japanese families to enjoy KFC chicken and cake for their Christmas Eve feast! While this may sound odd to Westerners, this tradition actually dates back to 1974 when KFC launched its "Christmas Party Barrel" promotion. The promotion was so successful that it quickly caught on as a popular way to celebrate the holidays. Today, you can't go anywhere in Japan on December 24th without seeing long lines at KFC locations!
China – Apple of my Eye
China is known for its unique and distinct set of cultural traditions, including how they celebrate Christmas. A common tradition is the exchange of engraved apples – a representation of peace and knowledge. Rather than exchanging cards or presents, families give one another these uniquely engraved apples during Christmas. Other traditions include decorating the house with paper lanterns, elaborate feasts to share with family and friends, and setting off firecrackers! Christmas in China has its own unique rituals that reflects the culture’s deep history and longtime commitment to honouring older traditions.
India- A Regional Feast
In India, Christmas Day is celebrated as a traditional festival with platters full of delicious treats and decorations draped all around. In India's coastal state of Goa, celebrations are particularly spectacular. Throughout December, churches are decorated with lights and wreaths in the lead up to Christmas. On the special day itself, villagers in the region come together for feasting and festivities. Traditional India cakes like bolo rei and dodol are prepared, while regional dishes like sorpotel or chop suey accompany them. Families gather around bonfires late into the night, singing hymns from Bible as carols echo in the air.
Korea - A Special Take on Santa
Out of all East Asian nations, only Korea officially recognises December 25th as an official public holiday. In Korea, Christmas carries its own distinct set of traditions and symbols. Rather than focusing on family celebrations, Korean couples enjoy the day in a romantic setting by taking part in special activities or exchanging gifts. There is also an interesting twist to this version of Christmas - Meet Santa Haraboji, the unique Korean 'Father Santa'! He wears traditional Korean attire and delivers lucky bamboo branches rather than presents like his Western counterparts do. This proves that every nation has their own way of celebrating Christmas while simultaneously preserving cherished cultural traditions and values.
Vietnam - A French Supper
Vietnam is a country with a rich history, which influences its celebrations of Christmas today. As Vietnam was formerly part of French Indochina, Vietnam combines traditions from both cultures in the way it marks Christmas. The world-famous Notre Dame Cathedral in Saigon serves as an important meeting point for Catholics and other Christians who come together to celebrate the holiday with prayer and festivities.
Vietnam celebrates a traditional Christmas feast on December 25th, typically consisting of turkey dishes and log cakes filled with chestnuts and cream – an influence from French cuisine. On this day people also attend special masses in local churches that are decorated with festive coloured paper lanterns, another example of Vietnam's unique amalgamation of cultures at play.
"The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree: the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other." — Burton Hills