How to celebrate Christmas and New Years in Asia

Dec 31, 2021 | India, Indonesia, Japan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Travel Tips

Christmas and New Years is one of the best times of the year. Whether it’s watching fireworks together, watching “The Grinch” beneath 5 layers of blankets, or throwing a shrimp on the grill! Each family, and, of course, each country, has its unique traditions. If you’ve ever considered spending the holiday season in an exotic location, have a look at our guide to spending Christmas and New Years in Asia below!

 

Sri Lanka

Christians in Sri Lanka begin the Christmas season by setting off firecrackers at daybreak on December 1st, followed by a Midnight Mass. Despite the fact that Sri Lanka is a largely Buddhist country, with only 7% of the population being Christian, Buddhists participate in the festivities in large numbers. Young children decorate Christmas trees and string holiday lights, and Santa Claus may be found in many malls across the country. Sri Lankans eat a ‘western’ Christmas feast that includes turkey, mince pies, Christmas pudding, and all the trimmings. It is customary for Christian homes to share their feasts with non-Christians throughout the holiday season by offering them a tray of Christmas dinner foods.

christmas tree decorated in sri lanka

The Philippines

If you visit the Philippines between September and December, you may be a little perplexed! Don’t worry, you didn’t simply leap ahead two months… or rewind time for that matter. Filipinos begin counting down to Christmas on September 1st, and the festivities last for four months! Christmas music in stores can begin as early as September and continue through January. However, things begin to pick up formally on December 16th. Every day, many people start attending pre-dawn masses, with the final mass being held on Christmas Day. The Feast of the Three Kings, also known as Epiphany, falls on the first Sunday of January and marks the conclusion of the festivities… for 7 months, after which it all begins again! If you’re thinking about spending Christmas in Asia, come to the Philippines for a tropical holiday you won’t forget.

On New Year’s Eve, December 31st, many Filipinos gather to celebrate a midnight feast known as the Media Noche. It is also customary to stay awake till the New Year arrives. Filipinos also light fireworks and make a lot of noise on New Year’s Day to ward off evil spirits.

 fireworks set off on new years eve in manila, philippines

India

Santa Claus brings gifts to children in India using a traditional horse and cart. Depending on the language, Christmas celebrations are centered on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day, with Midnight Mass being a major event. Catholics traditionally fast from the 1st of December until Midnight Mass on the 24th. Depending on where you are in India, there is a huge feast of local delicacies and the giving and receiving of gifts either just before or immediately after Midnight Mass. Indians decorate a banana or mango tree for a ‘traditional’ Christmas tree and sometimes use mango leaves to decorate their homes! Christians in Goa will place giant star-shaped paper lanterns between their houses, giving the impression that the stars are floating above you as you walk. Also to note, only around 5% of India’s population is Christian, but with a total population of 1.4 billion people, that 5% makes up a lot of people!

For New Years in India, major events, such as live concerts and dances by movie and music stars, are also arranged and attended mostly by youngsters. Indians prefer to spend New Year’s Eve with their families. Hotels and resorts are also decked out in preparation for tourist arrival, and fierce competition pushes them to tempt visitors with amazing New Year’s Eve deals.

 lanterns in flight on new years eve in india

Indonesia

Only 10% of Indonesia’s population is Christian, but that amounts to a staggering 20 million people! In Indonesia, Christmas is a big occasion. As one might assume, the various regions have a wide range of local traditions. Christmas dinner in Papua is typically pork roasted between hot stones in the ground known as Barapen. In Bali, the streets are decked with yellow coconut leaf decorations, and the Christmas trees are fashioned entirely of chicken feathers. The Lovely December event, which includes dancing, local cuisine, and traditional bamboo music, marks the start of Christmas in Toraja. The end of Christmas is marked by massive firework displays, and a procession is staged on December 26th.

man in a santa suit surfing on a beach in bali, indonesia

New Year’s Eve in Bali is unquestionably a spectacular occasion. The island will be alive with activities and parties, and you will be spoilt for choice. Every popular beach club, restaurant, and bar will be offering a New Year’s Eve special and most will also offer fireworks! Get out early as traffic will be very busy and most venues will be packed before 10pm!

fireworks on new years eve at potato head  in bali, indonesia

Japan

This may appear strange, but Christmas has only become widely celebrated in Japan in the last few decades. Because Shintoism and Buddhism are the main religions in Japan, Christmas is considered as a time to promote love and happiness rather than a religious celebration. Christmas Eve is significantly more important than Christmas Day in Japan, and can be compared to Valentine’s Day in Western countries. Couples exchange gifts and go for candle-lit meals and evening strolls to see the Christmas lights on this romantic day. Although Christmas Day is not a national holiday for religious reasons, the Emperor’s birthday falls on December 23rd, which is clearly worthy of a national holiday!

It wouldn’t be Japan if there wasn’t a quirky food ritual tossed in for good measure. Following a 1970s advertisement named ‘Kentucky for Christmas,’ KFC is now considered a Christmas food in Japan. People will queue around the block to grab their Christmas KFC! If you want to spend Christmas in Asia but are used to cooler celebrations, come to Japan for the possibility of snow and the ability to snuggle up or celebrate the holidays in an onsen!

 kfc restaurant in japan decorated for christmas
In Japanese culture, the new year must start fresh. As a result, Japanese people frequently engage in oosouji, or “big cleaning.” Often, every inch of the house is cleaned, including places that go untouched the rest of the year. Most families will even move the fridge during oosouji, as well as vacuuming under it.

Another big tradition in Japanese culture is eating certain foods.Toshikoshi soba is eaten on New Years eve, while ozoni and osechi are enjoyed on the actual day of New Years.

 toshikoshi soba is a common dish eaten on new years eve.
Christmas and New Years can be the best time of year for a lot of people all over the globe. Many different countries have different traditions for the last week of the year and celebrating abroad can be an amazing experience. Holidays should be enjoyed without too much thought and stress. After all, it is just a holiday. It is a day to enjoy with friends and family and have a good time! So, whichever country you will be spending your Christmas and New Years in next year, just know to enjoy yourself. How did you celebrate Christmas and New years this year? Let us know in the comment section so we can all have a read of traditions or cool stories!

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