When it comes to Christmas time, Asia might not seem like the most obvious place to be. After all, most of the populace belongs to faiths like Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam, rather than Christianity.
However, with the Christian faith sprinkled across the world’s most vast continent, you might not be able to find a glass of eggnog to save your life. But at least you’ll likely be able to find someone to exchange gifts, eat turkey, or sing carols with.
Best of all, should you find yourself in Asia during the festive season, you’ll be able to avoid the cold, wintry weather and top up your tan. If you’re looking for a destination to set yourself down and get into the Christmas spirit, here are some great suggestions…
1) Attend The Orchard Road Light Up (Singapore)
While most native Singapore residents are of Chinese or Malay origin and are therefore not Christians for the most part, a large minority of the city state’s population comes from countries where the holiday is celebrated. Combine that with the work hard, play hard mentality of the citizenry here, and you have an atmosphere that embraces this holiday with open arms.
One of the most public manifestations of this attitude can be seen at the Orchard Road Light Up, a festival of lights that honours Christmas with an ever-changing array of decorations each year. Everything from the 15 metre tall Christmas trees to the singing carollers reference this holiday, except for that fact that you’re in a tropical nation.
If you want to experience the weird juxtaposition of drinking out of a coconut in high 20 degree Celsius temperatures, while admiring expertly hung Christmas lights, this festival is for you.
2) Celebrate with the citizens of one of Asia’s majority Christian nations (Philippines)
Despite what you’ve been led to believe, there are a couple of majority Christian nations in Asia. One of them is tiny East Timor, which is a bit on the adventurous side for most, but the other is the perpetually cheery nation of the Philippines. This nation is an archipelago, home to just under 100 million people, most of which were converted to Christianity during the colonial period by the Spanish.
While many of the celebrations observed by Filipinos mirror those in the west, some traditions unique to the islands have emerged over time, such as the parol, which is a star-shaped lantern hung on houses and business establishments.
Additionally, the intensity of religious observances here is stronger than most other places in the world, with special masses beginning on the 16th of December, right through to the Feast of the Three Kings on January 6th.
Whether you spend your time in UNESCO World Heritage Sites like Banaue, or on the beach in Boracay, celebrating the season in the Philippines is an experience that’/ll stay with you for the rest of your life.
3) Check out the Busan Christmas Tree Festival (South Korea)
While Christians may not be the majority in South Korea, they comprise a significant segment of the population, with roughly a third accepting Jesus as their Lord and saviour. After no doubt meeting a few on the street as they hand out mints and prayer cards, you can delve deeper into Christmas culture here by going to public celebrations of the season; one of the most prominent is the Busan Christmas Tree Festival.
Unlike the prior two locations, South Korea experiences a proper winter, so the chilly air will help you get into the holiday spirit as you chow down on local treats like the sugary hoddeok, and pin your hopes and dreams on one of many wish trees located in the trendy neighbourhood of Nampo.
4) Alternate between beach bumming and celebrating in the Christian enclave of Goa (India)
If your idea of Christmas involves a tropical beach, but you don’t want to give up all the trappings of the season, heading to Goa in Southern India is likely your best option. While most of the country is either Hindu or Muslim, most in the former Portuguese possession are Christian, and celebrate their faith in the stately cathedrals of the Old Town every holiday season.
When you tire of the party scene at the beaches, head inland to listen to carollers that collect funds for local leper colonies, try some dodol, a traditional sweet made of coconut and cashew, and kindly accept random gifts handed out by people dressed as Santa. No matter what you end up doing in Goa at Christmas, it will be unlike any holiday season you have celebrated before.
5) Get a beach bungalow on a remote island in Thailand and wait for it to blow over…
Some of us can’t stand Christmas, and that’s understandable. What used to be a deeply spiritual and family holiday has changed in many quarters into a contest of who can spend more money in your immediate circle.
If this sounds like you, there are many remote islands in Thailand where the locals have a passing interest in the day at best, allowing you to relax without someone pressuring you to embrace your inner spendthrift.
On the Andaman coast, islands like Koh Adang and Ko Bulon Lae will help you avoid the throngs, while the far flung isles of the Koh Chang archipelago (Koh Maak, Koh Kood) are a great option near the Cambodian border.
Above all else, have a great Christmas, wherever you end up traveling over the next month or so…