December is surely a special month for Christians all around the world, for it’s the time to celebrate Christmas. Christmas has become a universal celebration even for the countries where Christianity isn’t the major religion like some countries in Asia. Several Southeast Asian countries are enthusiastic of Christmas holiday though it’s more like a secular celebration than religious one. You may have your Christmas holiday adorning Christmas tree, making eggnog, and baking gingerbread cookies while playing Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas Is You on repeat, but what Christmas looks like in Asian countries? Although these countries mostly follow Western Christmas traditions, there is also a little local twist added celebration. Source : Christmas in Southeast Asia
Being predominantly Roman Catholic countries in Southeast Asia along with East Timor, Christmas has more religious meaning in these countries. The earliest countdown to Christmas starts from September, while the celebration lasts to January in the New Year. Christmas knick-knack spread all over the Philippines is the parol, a star-shaped lantern made out of bamboo and paper. Parol is a symbolism of Star of Bethlehem which guided the Wise Men to the manger. Back then, folks used parols to light the way heading to pre-Christmas dawn Masses, aka Misa de Gallo or Simbang Gabi. On Christmas Eve, Filipinos households often hold a traditional huge feast for family and friends called Noche Buena (the Good Night). Filipinos commonly serve various Christmas dishes such as lechón (roasted pig), bibingka (Filipino rice cake), and pancit (Filipino noodles) as well as sweet dishes like úbe halayá (purple yam jam), fruit salad and other sweets. Full article: Unique Christmas Traditions in Asia
Although the major population of Indonesia are Muslim, Christmas is a public holiday because those who celebrate are many. Indonesian term for Christmas is “Hari Natal” which means holiday in Portuguese. Tracing back to 17th century, the Portuguese spread Christian to Indonesia along with its colonisation. Meanwhile, Santa Claus is known as “Sinterklas” due to Dutch influence.
Christmas is inseparable from cookies, right? But rather than the chocolate chip cookies as usual tradition, Indonesia has its own signature cookies. Indonesians commonly serve nastar (butter cookies filled by pineapple jam), Kastengel (cheese cookies), and Putri Salju aka Snow White (peanut cookies sprinkled with powdered sugar) for various feasts including Christmas.
Each part of Indonesia has its own Christmas custom. People in Bali put Penjors, a traditional Hindu decoration of tall, curved bamboo poles decorated with yellow coconut leaves, along the streets. The locals also have a typical Christmas tree made from chicken feathers. Meanwhile, in Yogyakarta, the locals hold a wayang kulit (shadow puppet) performances telling the story about the birth of Jesus Christ and the Christmas. Besides, the priest who leads the Christmas Day Mass in Yogyakarta is usually wearing traditional Javanese attire.
On Christmas Eve, the Vietnamese go enthusiastic even though Christmas Day isn’t considered as an official public holiday in Vietnam. Christmas celebration in Vietnam is greatly influenced by French culture after its colonisation back in the past. On the Christmas Eve night, crowds gather in the city centre of Ho Chi Minh, to be exact at the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon. People throw confetti and take photos of the flickering Christmas ornament to celebrate the night. Gift exchange isn’t really a tradition in Vietnam, but it’s common for Vietnamese to give the French bûche de Noël aka Yule log cake (a chocolate cake shaped like a log) as a present. Vietnam also has its own PANGGILAN name for Santa. There, Santa is known as Ông già Noel, or Old Father Christmas.
Christmas in Singapore is more of a secular and commercial celebration. Eating and shopping are the usual activities during the Christmas holiday. Orchard Road is one of the famous places in Singapore during Christmas. The shopping district is adorned with huge Christmas tree and glistening lights. The shopping malls on the Orchard Road also cater to last-minute Christmas shoppers, offer special promotions and extend opening hours.
Thailand also has no public holiday for Christmas because the majority of its population are Buddhists. However, Buddhism is highly tolerant of other religions, including Christianity, so the Christmas celebration is still a thing in the country. Christmas Thai people love parties and seize upon festivals as they regard the concept of Sanuk and enjoyment as a crucial part of the culture. Though Thai people gladly join the Christmas feast, the religious significance of Christmas isn’t that important to most of them.
Certain places, particularly tourism spots are festooned with Christmas theme. Shopping malls in Bangkok love to scatter fluorescent lights around the halls to spread Christmas vibes. Central World is widely known for its giant Christmas tree and marvellous decorations.
Having various cultures ranging from Malay, Indian, Chinese and Eurasian, Malaysia has so many festivals to celebrate year-round. These celebrations commonly become a public holiday, including Christmas. Christmas in Malaysia is kind of similar to Singapore on being more a commercial festival. Public places are adorned with Christmas ornaments and shopping malls have Santa and his elves to take photos with. Right at the midnight of Christmas Day, colourful fireworks strike the sky with colourful lights. On Christmas Day itself, Malaysians usually have a great feast with family and friends.