Christmas in Asian countries can be a bit different from the sterotypical Christmas celebrations that most of us are familiar with. First of all, not all Asian countries celebrate the season especially the Muslim countries in the middle east and South East Asian countries like Indonesia and Malaysia. Expats in these countries may struggle this time of the year as old Christmas traditions may not be observed. However, despite the cultural differences, many non-Christian cities in Asia still have their own pockets of festivities as the small Christian population come together to celebrate the season in their own very special and significant way. So here's a few of what you can expect for Christmas as an expat in Asia.
Christmas in August
Photo: Kahunapule Michael Johns
The Philippines is the only country that starts its Christmas season in mid-August. This is about the time that one can start hearing Christmas songs on the radio and seeing holiday décors put on display or for sale in department stores. Shopping is encouraged by the widespread sale around the country especially in malls and department stores as they try to get rid of old inventories.
A Filipino Christmas is about family and one’s community. There are fiestas and street parties, night markets and bazaars, office parties and the heavy expectations of a year-end or very little work days with big work bonuses.
Foreigners visiting the Philippines during this time of the year are almost always pleasantly surprised by the openness of the locals where many parties are practically open-house events for friends of friends or relatives of friends. For some unexplained reasons, there are always enough food and drinks for everyone! One can expect to see the traditional roasted pig, Christmas ham, turkey, chicken, pasta, and an assorted display of sweets and desserts.
A KFC Christmas
Photo: David Kawabata
In Japan, Christmas is celebrated like in no other country in the world. They have fabulous light displays. These are set up to honor the birthday of Emperor Akihito which falls on December 23. On Christmas Day, celebrations are limited to the Christmas Cake (a delicious cream cake with strawberry toppings) and for many, the KFC Chicken’s Special Christmas Dinner. Yes, that’s the US fast food chain, Kentucky Fried Chicken, which has managed to become the Japanese version of the Christmas ham.
If December 25 falls on a weekday, it is a regular working day in Japan, although many Japanese have practice gift-giving known as “Oseibo” and going out on dates as if it were Valentine’s Day. Thus, many hotels and restaurants offer incredible romantic deals for two, making it almost impossible to book a reservation at the last minute.
A Chinese Christmas
With only 1% of China’s population being Christian, this holiday is celebrated in a very commercial way. The shops are all visibly decorated with lights and Christmas trees all done to encourage locals and tourists to start shopping for gifts, food, and drinks.
Like Japan, if Christmas Day falls on a weekday, it is a regular working day but usually peppered with midday parties, late night drinking, and gift-giving. Some Chinese cities like Guilin, host an annual Christmas Eve show on public streets for all to enjoy. The Christmas dinner includes the best Chinese delicacies and fruits that are round in shape because the Chinese believe round-shaped fruits will bring good fortune to a family. The foods served in households are very atypical of a traditional Western-style holiday menu of ham, rib roast, and fruit cake. But if one wants these, he or she can always drop by a hotel where these kinds of foods are served in an extravagant and delightful Christmas buffet.
Hong Kong is probably the most commercially festive of all Chinese cities and where Christmas Day is a holiday. CNN has said that Hong Kong is one of the top 10 places to be visited during Christmas because of the preparation done by the locals to promote the island as the perfect holiday getaway. From Ocean Park to Hong Kong Disneyland, there are a variety of treats waiting for everyone including freebies and fantastic shows.
A Vietnamese Christmas
Photo: Bruce & Robyn Dunning
Vietnam is mainly a Buddhist country but Christmas is one of their four religious holidays. Christmas Eve is more significant to them than Christmas Day because Vietnamese children are encouraged to believe in Santa Claus. Thus, it is just as exciting for them as that of the children from Europe to America. The Christmas Eve dinner is also well-planned and folks for sure have much preparation and spending a lot is common for most households. Right before midnight, the children are asked to go to their rooms after leaving their shoes out for Santa. Many families like to play a song to “give Santa time to come and drop the gifts in their shoes.” Once the song ends, the children go out and get their special gifts. Other families like to keep the children in bed until Christmas morning just like those from the West.
Before and after the visit of Santa, many Vietnamese are seen outdoors enjoying the Christmas lights and camaraderie. It’s a big outdoor party in many neighborhoods. The traditional Christmas food served in Vietnam is turkey or duck, chicken soup, fried rice, pudding, and the French Christmas chocolate log cake.
Lately though, due to heavy marketing, many Vietnamese prefer to eat in fancy hotels and restaurants during the holidays. This they do during very busy seasons so most of them can go party or hotel-hopping and enjoy as much as many of the different festivities as possible.
Christmas Overseas, Christmas in Asia, Expat Holiday, The Holidays, Expat Lifestyle, Living Abroad