Find out how Christmas is celebrated in Japan, South Korea, China, Thailand and Vietnam... or not.
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16 Dec 2014 - 3:40 PM  UPDATED 21 Dec 2014 - 12:47 PM

Japan

The major religions in Japan are Buddhism and Shinto, so Christmas is more of a commercial event that Japanese people celebrate for fun. It is common for Japanese parents to give Christmas presents to their children and this exchange happens on Christmas Eve, not Christmas day. However, adults don’t usually give gifts to each other as they keep to the notion that only Santa brings presents... because it is true! ;)

Photo credit: Escape to Japan

South Korea

Christmas is celebrated more widely in South Korea as Christians make up about 30% of the population. However, the other 70% of people in South Korea are Buddhist (about 25%) or don't have a religion so if they do celebrate Christmas, it is more for the joyous sentiment the holidays bring.

Unlike in Japan, Christmas is an official public holiday, but South Koreans go back to work or school on Boxing Day, the 26th. There's a longer official winter break in the New Year.

One of the biggest differences between South Korean and Western Christmas celebrations is the food! Check out Eat Your Kimchi's Simon & Martina’s video on the different delicacies shared:

Photo credit: Lindsey in Sejong 

China

Chinese New Year is the Chinese version of Christmas and the biggest holiday, but many Chinese people still get in the holiday spirit around the 25th December just for fun. Christmas is not an official holiday in China, so most offices, schools and shops remain open. The western style of Christmas as we know it is more prominent in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.

Chinese children don’t normally leave out cookies and milk for Santa, grass for the reindeer or write a letter detailing their heartfelt wishes, but they can get their photo with the friendly white-bearded father at some department stores.  Colourful, cellophane-wrapped 'Christmas apples' are a popular gift. The word "apple" apparently sounds like "Christmas eve" in Mandarin.

In China and Taiwan, Santa is called 聖誕老人 (shèngdànlǎorén) and he is often accompanied in Taiwan with his sisters: young women dressed in elf costumes or red and white. In Hong Kong, Santa is called Lan Khoong or Dun Che Lao Ren which translates to “Christmas Old Man”.

Photo credit: Washington post 

Thailand

Christmas is not widely celebrated in Thailand and the 25th is just a normal working day. Thailand is about 85% Buddhist, 14% Muslim and the remaining 1% accounts for other religions and non-religious citizens. The King's birthday on the 5th of December, is the biggest holiday at the end of the year, where celebrations can continue until the end of the month!

Christmas decorations can be seen in Bangkok and major tourist hot spots but it’s more of a commercial exercise (probably just to make Australians on holiday feel even more welcome).

Photo credit: Reporters Magazine 

Philippines

Christmas is big in the Philippines mostly because a large percentage of the population is of the Christian faith (around 90%). Formal Christmas celebrations start on 16th December when many Filipino's go to the first of nine early morning masses, the last being on Christmas day. However, Christmas decorations and the playing of Christmas carols in shops can surface as early as September! The Christmas celebrations continue to the 1st Sunday in January when 'Epiphany' or the 'Feast of the Three Kings' is celebrated.

You will see star shaped lanterns called ‘paróls’ traditionally made of bamboo and paper everywhere at Christmas time in the Philippines. The lanterns depict the Star of Bethlehem and evoke a sense of goodwill and hope for the Filipino people.  

Photo credit: Wikipedia 

Vietnam

Only a small amount of the Vietnamese population identifies as Christian, but that doesn’t stop the Vietnamese people celebrating the spirit of Christmas, predominantly on Christmas Eve.

In Vietnam’s largest city, Ho Chi Minh City people like to go into the city centre on Christmas Eve to enjoy the light shows, eat out, throw confetti, take pictures and enjoy the Christmas decorations. Vietnam was once part of the French Empire and there are still French influences in the Christmas traditions.

Hit the audio tab above to hear how SBS PopAsia host Andy celebrates Christmas. He just called his dad live on #Hits.  

Photo credit: Scoop Boy 

How do you celebrate Christmas? Wherever you are...