If traveling in December, celebrating Christmas in Asia is an option. You’ll easily find Christmas decor and traditions in varying forms stretched from East Asia to the beaches of India.
Many countries in Asia have adopted December 25 as an official public holiday but not all. Regardless, Christmas lights, decorated trees, and even Santa can be spotted in countries where Christmas isn't officially observed as a winter event.
Christmas Celebrations in Asia
Outside of a few countries and regions, Christmas is mainly a secular event in Asia rather than religious.
Whether or not December 25 is observed as a public holiday is largely inconsistent. For instance, Christmas is not a public holiday in Thailand (predominantly Buddhist), but it is a national public holiday in neighboring Malaysia (predominantly Islamic). Regardless, you'll see plenty of Christmas decorations and locals wearing Santa hats in Bangkok's malls.
Like many Western holidays, the commercial appeal of Christmas is too much to resist for Asia's many giant shopping malls. Decorations pop up as early as October in some places! Special sales and events are common. Even Santa makes an appearance in some malls.
Christmas is celebrated vigorously in the Philippines where Christianity is predominant. Preparations begin months in advance! Families celebrate the holiday together at home, and public decorations often contain Christian themes and symbols such as crosses. Meanwhile, in countries such as Thailand, Christmas is mainly just enjoyed as a commercialized festival where some shopping centers put out public decorations.
Cities and countries in Asia with sizable expat populations such as Singapore observe Christmas more enthusiastically. People host private parties, and Western-owned businesses such as pubs and restaurants hold special dinners and gatherings where you'll hear familiar Christmas music. Public streets may get decorated with lights, although some of the traditional Christian themes (e.g., crosses, wise men, etc) are usually missing.
Top Places to Celebrate Christmas in Asia
Many travelers want to celebrate Christmas while enjoying Asia in December. Even warm destinations such as Sri Lanka usually give at least a nod to the holiday. If nothing else, a few decorated palm trees will serve as a reminder of the special day!
- Singapore: Singapore boasts the highest number of foreign residents in the world. It’s no surprise that these expats host Christmas parties and do some seasonal decorating. Although Christianity isn't Singapore's primary religion, Christmas is still celebrated widely, albeit in a more secular manner. Malls will be decorated, and vivid lights adorn the length of Orchard Road. Christmas is also observed as a public holiday in neighboring Malaysia.
- The Philippines: More than 90 percent of Filipinos claim to be Roman Catholic, making the Philippines one of two predominantly Christian countries in Southeast Asia (East Timor is the other). Christmas is celebrated publicly throughout the country, aside from a handful of places where where Islam is the predominant faith. As for the rest of the country, a strong emphasis on religion can be seen during the Christmas holiday. You’ll even hear Christmas songs being played in October as the country gears up for one of its favorite holidays!
- Hong Kong: Even after the handover to China in 1997, Western influence is still apparent in Hong Kong. Large Christmas trees will be lit in public squares, and many of the skyscrapers display Christmas light shows in efforts to outdo each other. Christmas is a public holiday in Hong Kong.
- East Asia: Along with Hong Kong, public Christmas decorations are easy to find in big cities such as Seoul, Taipei, and Tokyo.
Christmas in Japan
Although less than 2 percent of Japanese claim to be Christian and December 25 is not a public holiday, the Christmas season is still observed with enthusiasm—particularly Christmas Eve. Gift exchanges take place between couples and companies; corporate offices are sometimes decorated for the occasion.
Christmas in India
Hinduism and Islam are the primary religions in India, with only around 2 percent of the population claiming Christianity as a religion. But that doesn’t stop Goa from putting on a big Christmas celebration every December. Around 25 percent of people in Goa claim to be Christian; the Portuguese influence is apparent everywhere.
Banana trees are decorated, Christians head to midnight mass, and a Western-style meal is often enjoyed on Christmas Eve. Plenty of lively beach parties in Goa celebrate the event. Christmas is also celebrated enthusiastically by Christians in Kerala and other parts of India, where Christmas stars adorn many homes.
Christmas in South Korea
Christianity is a major religion in South Korea, and Christmas Day is celebrated as a public holiday. Money is often given as a gift, cards are exchanged, and the bridges over the Han River in Seoul are lit with decorations. Some families, even ones who don't identify with any religion, choose to attend a church service on Christmas. Santa Claus may be seen wearing blue instead of red in South Korea!
Christmas in China
Outside of Hong Kong and Macau, Christmas celebrations in China tend to be private affairs between families and friends. Hotels that primarily cater to Western guests will decorate, and shopping malls may have special sales.
For much of China, Christmas is just another workday while everyone counts down to the Chinese New Year holiday in January or February.