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East Asian Christmas Traditions

December 16th, 2009 by

You’ll find that throughout the world the holidays are celebrated in a plethora of different ways. While the general spirit of the Christmas holiday is usually the same, each culture has found a few unique ways of its own to celebrate. Here are just a few of the traditions celebrated throughout Eastern Asia.

Christmas in China

Christmas decorations in Bangkok

Because of its heavily mixed ethnic population, you’ll find that Christmas is heavily celebrated throughout China. In China the “Christmas Old Man” will come and put treats and small gifts in the muslin stockings the children hang for the holidays. They’ll also decorate local trees with ornaments made of paper – usually shaped like lanterns, flowers, or paper chains.

Hong Kong Christmas IFC img_4720bm

In China the Christmas tree is traditionally known as the Tree of Light and the formal name for Santa Clause or the Christmas Old Man is Dun Che Lao Ren. It is also traditional for individuals to make their own handmade Christmas cards to give to family and friends. The cards usually had pictures of holiday decorations or the Holy family in a Chinese atmosphere instead of in Jerusalem.

Christmas tree (Crowne Plaza Hotel (Beijing))

Chinese citizens who are not Christian celebrate during the holiday season as well but instead of celebrating the Christmas Holiday they recognize this time of year as the Spring Festival. They spend time at festivals and dinners designed to honor their passed loved ones and welcome the spring. Children who aren’t celebrating Christmas usually receive clothes and toys as gifts during this time of the year as well.

Wow, nice family pickie, Christmas Morn in Beijing, December 24, 2004

There are hundreds of Christian churches throughout China so you won’t have a hard time finding a Christian service on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. You’ll find services in both English and Chinese, catering to European citizens and foreign tourists from around the globe.

Celebrating Christmas in Japan

Japan's christmas decorations are pretty much the epitome of the expression 'christmas gone wron

The Christmas holiday is also widely recognized in Japan despite the fact that the Christian population in that country is only around 1%. If you visit Japan you will find that most of the homes, offices, and stores are decorated anyway and a large percentage of the population still exchanges gifts.

Dancing Christmas Trees dance in this Parade

One of the major differences between Christmas in Japan versus the rest of the world is the lack of family togetherness. Instead of gathering in large groups to exchange gifts and spent quality time together, most Japanese Christians will instead go out and donate their time or services to local charities. On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day some of the churches will have rather lengthy events for the children to participate in, usually featuring skits, singing, and other fun activities.

Christmas in Thailand

Christmas in Thailand, Koh Samui airport

The Christmas holiday in Thailand is a completely different story. Like in Japan, only around 1% of the population in Thailand is Christian but instead of embracing the spirit of the holiday season the folks in Thailand are not as festive. The Christian churches and homes of those participating may be decorated but you won’t go out and find festive shopping malls or streets.

Christmas in the Philippines

Christmas Decor at a Philippine Gasoline Fill-up Station

Christmas in the Philippines is widely embraced as many of the citizens of this country embrace Christianity. The folks in the Philippines start celebrating Christmas 9 days in advance by attending the Misa de Gallo mass. On Christmas Day itself masses are held on the hour, every hour, so that everyone has an opportunity to attend between other festivities.

Christmas in India


India is another country that happily embraces the Christmas tradition. While the Christmas festival is celebrated differently depending on the area you visit, the goals are generally the same. Some locals will decorate their mango trees while others will place clay lamps on the tops of their walls and roofs to light up the area. Poinsettias are a popular decorations and locals enjoy attending midnight Mass services on Christmas Eve. The tradition of giving gifts to friends, family, and charity groups is also closely cherished.

No matter where you visit in Eastern Asia you’ll find that the Christmas holiday is embraced in a unique and special way, even in areas with small Christian populations. Kick back, embrace the holiday spirit, and don’t be afraid to travel during the Christmas season. You won’t feel out of place, regardless of where you end up.

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