The holiday that billions of us eagerly await every year has come a long way from its roots as a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. While Christians around the world still faithfully follow the religious traditions, the secular customs–decorating a tree, exchanging gifts, feasting with loved ones–have come to largely overshadow its spiritual connotations. Indeed, the extent to which the secular activities have pervaded the world becomes clear when we take a look at how the holiday is celebrated in regions with no, or largely other, religious affiliations.
Even though Christmas is not an official holiday, it has grown immensely in popularity among the (younger) population. People often stay up late on Christmas-Eve with friends, while they often gift each other “special” apples imprinted with Christmas wishes and wrapped in fancy packaging. Although few decorate their homes, fancy decorations around the big cities impress passersby. Many people try caroling, while postmen even dress up as Santa to deliver the mail.
Christmas in Japan is not an official holiday, although it sure feels like it is! Decorations fill the streets, Christmas markets flourish in cities, and festive sweets are sold at every corner. Christmas Eve is the most romantic day of the year here, and is celebrated by the Japanese as a sort of Valentine’s Day. Finally, the “traditional” Christmas food is Kentucky Fried Chicken, with menu orders coming in as early as six weeks before the holiday.
South Korea is said to be a largely non-religious country, with more than half its population identifying as atheist. It is also the only East Asian country that recognizes Christmas as a national holiday! However, people don’t commonly decorate their houses, money is exchanged rather than gifts, and “Grandfather Santa” usually dresses in blue or green and wears a Korean “gat” hat.
Although only 3% of the population is Christian, Christmas is an official holiday in India. Millions decorate their homes with banana and mango leaves, illuminate the streets with lanterns and clay lamps, and feast together on curries and traditional sweets. Impressive displays adorn public buildings, while carols can be heard around the cities.
About 95% of Senegal’s population is Muslim, and yet Christmas is a national holiday. Trees are decorated inside mosques, vendors walk the streets selling tinsel and ornaments, and blow-up Santas, decorations and garlands fill the streets. The importance of this secular tradition demonstrates the tolerance and diversity that characterize the country.
The list of non-Christian Christmas traditions goes on and on. But these examples offer a glimpse into how the holiday spirit knows no borders and can spread joy to every corner of the globe.
Merry Christmas, everyone!