Unique Christmas Traditions in Asia

 

Christmas is less than a week away! For many of us, this season means decorating Christmas trees, navigating through crowded malls, playing the Michael Bublé Christmas album way too much and baking gingerbread cookies. But what does Christmas look like for the rest of the world? More specifically, how is Christmas in Asia?

Asian countries have a smaller number of Christians and Catholics compared to the rest of the world. In Thailand for instance, less than 1% of the population is Christian. As a result, many Asian countries who do celebrate Christmas simply follow Western customs and traditions such as Midnight Mass and the exchange of gifts (but not without enthusiasm). In places like Hong Kong, Vietnam and Malaysia, Western customs and traditions are followed, but the holiday has a more secular view than a religious one.

Of course, this is not the case for all Asian countries. The Philippines, for instance, is one of two predominantly Catholic countries in Asia and Christmas is the most enthusiastically celebrated holiday on the calendar. The country is known for celebrating the world’s longest Christmas season which begins September 1st.

We’ve found that the Asian countries which do celebrate Christmas have an interesting set of traditions specific to their country. Here are some of the most unique ones:

 


 

JAPAN

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Photo courtesy of www.smosh.com

In 1974, KFC Japan began to promote fried chicken as a Christmas meal. The insanely successful “Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!” (Kentucky for Christmas!) marketing campaign made the “Christmas Chicken” bucket an annual tradition. In fact, the tradition has become so popular, people order their buckets months in advance to avoid the two hour line.

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Photo courtesy of christmas-kid.com

In addition to KFC fried chicken, there is one more thing that must be on the table for any Japanese home to feel the holiday spirit: Christmas cake. According to anthropologist Michael Ashkenazi, who studied Japanese culture and tradition, Christmas cake is “sold on practically every street corner.” Japanese Christmas cakes are sponge cakes covered in white cream and ruby red strawberries.

 


 

KOREA

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Photo courtesy of thekoreanway.wordpress.com

Christianity is still relatively new in Korea, so many Christmas celebrations follow that of Western culture. However, Korea has its own version of Santa Claus. Santa Haraboji, or Grandfather Santa, looks similar to the Western Santa, but he wears a traditional Korean hat (갓 gat) and his statues have often portrayed him in a green suit instead of a red one.

 


 

INDONESIA

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Photo courtesy of wkre.com

Although Indonesia is a Muslim country, Christmas is still regarded as a public holiday celebrated by many. Shopping malls are known to cover themselves in Christmas decorations and Santa Claus is even a widely-known figure. One Christmas tradition in Indonesia that we typically see in July are fireworks.

 


 

INDIA

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Similar to Indonesia, India has a very small Christian population, but the 2.3% of Christians (that’s 25 million) are very enthusiastic about Christmas. Religious customs such as Midnight Mass are observed and some even put a small, oil-burning, clay lamp on their roof to show that Jesus is the light of the world. In South India, the tradition of the Christmas tree is alive and well, but instead of pine trees, mangos trees are used.

 


 

PHILIPPINES

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Photo courtesy of hedgy.com

In the Philippines, Christmas is celebrated from September until January. Needless to say, this holiday is huge. One of the most well-known traditions is Simbang Gabi (night mass) which are nightly, dawn masses beginning from December 16th and ending on Christmas Eve. The masses are meant to show devotion to God and create more anticipation for the birth of Christ. After each mass, plenty of traditional food is consumed.

A "parol" is a traditional Filipino Christmas lantern.

Photo courtesy of dopaminejunkie.org

To us, the Christmas tree is one of the most symbolic decorations of Christmas. In the Philippines, it’s the paról. Paróls are star-shaped lanterns which represents the star of Bethlehem which guided the Three Kings. Early paróls were made of bamboo, rice paper and oil lanterns. Now, the art form of making paróls has become as intricate as they are beautiful.

 


 

Know more unique Asian Christmas traditions? Let us know!

Feature image courtesy of dopaminejunkie.org

 

Everything You Need To Know About Valentine’s Day Traditions

With Valentine’s Day nearly a week away, we decided this post would make the perfect Throwback Thursday. Continue reading to find out everything you need to know about Valentine’s Day traditions:

Chocolates, hearts, roses, and love in the air. Yup, it definitely feels like Valentine’s Day. Although we’re accustomed to a number of Valentine’s Day traditions, we may not know where a lot of these traditions come from. In fact, many of us don’t even know the actual origin of Valentine’s Day itself. In honor of this holiday, we plan to explore everything from chocolate covered strawberries to cupid.


Giving Roses/Flowers To A Loved One

The custom of giving flowers to others dates back to the 18th century (introduced by Charles II of Sweden). During this time, floral bouquets were sent to pass on non-verbal messages. Each flower had a specific meaning or stood for a particular message and thus an entire conversation could occur purely through the flowers. Today, Valentine’s Day is the holiday which sends the largest amount of flowers. Roses are the most popular because it represents romantic love. Specifically, the red rose is showered in popularity due to its relationship with passionate love.


The Heart Symbol

The heart is said to be the source of all human emotions and the representation of love. It seems only fitting to use such a symbol for such an emotion-filled holiday. Because the shape of the heart is vastly different from the shape of an actual human heart, many suggestions have been thrown out as an explanation. Some have said that the shape was an attempt to portray an organ that they could not see. Others suggest that the shape is intended to represent various shapes of the female body.

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Cupid

Cupid originates from Roman mythology where he is the god of erotic love. Although classical Greek mythology  portrayed Cupid as a slender youth with wings, Cupid is now often seen as a young boy bearing a bow and arrows. Myths have suggested that being shot with Cupid’s arrow results in uncontrolled desire.


XOXO

Rather than spelling out the phrase hugs and kisses, people will often use the letters X and O. While the origin of O is unknown, we do have an idea for why X stands for kiss. In the middle ages (when reading and writing skills were scarce), documents were often signed with an X. The signer would then kiss the X in front of a witness to show earnest feelings. Similarly, in Christian history, people would kiss the X after signing an oath to prove sincerity.

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Chocolate

Although many people link the discovery of chocolate to Latin America nearly 2000 years ago, the Mayans and Aztecs seem to have delighted in the product even earlier. They would place cocoa beans in water to drink or even use cocoa beans as a form of money. People began realizing the correlation between chocolate and feelings of excitement, attraction, and pleasure- so much that nuns were forbidden to eat chocolate and French doctors used it to cure “broken hearts”. With such strong emotions gained from this treat, it seems to make perfect sense to put some chocolate in a heart shaped box for Valentines.


Chocolate Covered Strawberries

The origin of chocolate covered strawberries is often credited to Lorraine Lorusso who introduced them at a store called “Stop n Shop” during the 1960s. The act of dipping fruits in chocolate may have begun much earlier. When chocolate was first introduced in Latin America, the product was very bitter and people often ate it with fruit to balance the flavors.


The Holiday Itself

There are many legends concerning Saint Valentine. The most popular one describes Valentine as a Roman priest in the third century. Legend says that Emperor Claudius II believed that soldiers were better suited for battle if they didn’t have wives and families to think about. Because of this, he outlawed marriage for young men. Believing that this law was wrong, St. Valentine began performing weddings for young couples in secret. He was eventually discovered and imprisoned for his actions. During his imprisonment, he fell in love with the jailer’s daughter and sent her the very first valentine- a letter which he signed “From Your Valentine”. We’ve been using this phrase ever since.

Audrey Explores Valentine’s Day Traditions

Chocolates, hearts, roses, and love in the air- yup, it definitely feels like Valentine’s Day. Although we’re accustomed to a number of Valentine’s Day traditions, we may not know where a lot of these traditions come from. In fact, many of us don’t even know the actual origin of Valentine’s Day itself. In honor of this holiday, we plan to explore everything from chocolate covered strawberries to cupid.

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