It seems that no matter what religion is predominant in a country, Christmas is found everywhere in some form or another. We checked out some more unusual Christmas traditions around Asia and the Pacific, you may not be so familiar with.
Christmas is as diverse as the huge number of provinces in this huge archipelago.
Jakarta – Portuguese descendants visit graveyards of their local church where they begin dancing and singing, visiting houses creating a chain of performers throughout the streets.
Yogyakarta – traditional Javanese shadow puppets tell the Nativity Story performed by priests.
Papua – villagers roast a pig in underground stone ovens accompanied by 24 hours of Christmas songs.
This predominantly Buddhist country is slowly adapting some Christian traditions, but make them entirely their own; performing in colourful traditional Cambodian yike dance and adapting Khmer Christmas carols to classic local tunes. A Christmas meal consists of chicken curry noodles, called non banh chok.
A highly popular KFC promotion in the 1970s has seen a tradition of eating KFC at Christmas become an annual custom. It’s now so traditional that the fast food chain takes reservations months in advance. The Colonel sells almost a quarter of a million barrels of chicken during the festive season.
In Ho Chi Minh City people flock to the city centre which is closed to traffic, throw confetti and revel in the lights and decorated buildings. The French colonial presence has left its mark and Vietnamese children leave their shoes at the front door hoping for goodies in the morning, and you can find many elaborate nativity scenes in the cities.
Christmas falls in the sweltering height of summer in the land downunder so the only way to go is to crank up the barbeque, play a good game of cricket in the backyard with the family, jump in the pool or head down to the nearest beach to cool off (dressed appropriately of course in swimmers and a Santa hat). On Christmas Eve, many people gather in local and city parks for Carols by Candlelight, especially popular in Sydney.
Expect to be bedazzled by twinkling lights at every corner as this mega high-rise city illuminates everything, including the tallest of buildings. It may not be snowing but Hong Kong loves Christmas and it’s everywhere. The Symphony of Lights, a spectacular architectural choreography, sees the city dance with lights accompanied by music. Make sure to grab the latest quirky singing Santa Claus or dancing reindeer.
The sweet smelling crispness of a fresh pine Christmas tree is replaced with highly decorated branches of banana, and even mango trees in India. Kochin and Kerala have a significant Christian population so Christmas is more evident in these areas, yet all decorations have a uniquely Indian touch to them. Residents of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan spend every night for a whole week singing Christmas carols.
Similarly to Hong Kong, Singapore’s famed shopping belt on Orchard Road and Marina Bay area is lit up with ornate lights and decorations. Shopping centres overflow with bargain hunters for year-end sales, Christmas gifts, and, well, any excuse to go shopping really!
At dawn each day from December 1, the sound of firecrackers let everyone know that the festive season has begun. Apart from the traditional Christmas trees which are widely popular, Sri Lankans prepare cribs made out of straw. It’s become a highly competitive tradition to outdo your neighbours, and businesses especially compete to have the most ornate and uniquely decorated crib in town.
Christmas is still not completely recognised by the state in China and no public holidays exist for the festive season, as it does in Hong Kong and Macau. There’s more an air of romance around Christmas than anything in the traditional sense. Couples go to movies, a karaoke bar or shopping. Christmas Eve is actually their biggest shopping day of the year and the only gifts becoming the norm are cellophane-wrapped apples. Apparently this is because ’apple’ sounds a lot like ’Christmas Eve’ in Mandarin. Having said that there are lots of appearances of Santa Claus and his elves (known as ’sisters’) as people love getting dressed up for the occasion, especially in public.
For the longest celebration of Christmas on the planet, there’s nowhere like the Philippines. The festive season is wholeheartedly embraced with rituals deeply intertwined with religious festivals from September until January. It’s probably one of the most authentic celebrations of Christmas in the world with numerous masses in a country where 90% of Filipinos are Christian. Expect street dancing on Christmas Eve, twinkling ’parols’ – lanterns hung everywhere to guide worshippers during night time masses, uniquely Filipino Christmas dishes and abundant seasonal greetings from strangers in the street.
In the Sakon Nakhon district, a very colourful Christmas Star Procession takes place each year. The region is home to Thailand’s largest Catholic community who decorate their colonial and Vietnamese-style houses with star-shaped lanterns, the highlight of which is a spectacular street procession during the evening on Christmas Day. Up to 200 elaborate floats are joined by hundreds of locals who join in with their own handmade star lanterns.
Featured image: Mabalacat City Hall, Philippines Wikimedia