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Asia Minute: Christmas in the Asia Pacific

U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kevin West
Members of Team Yokota begin the holiday season with a Christmas tree lighting ceremony on Dec. 6, 2019, at Yokota Air Base, Japan.

Christmas is a holiday that’s generally more associated with parts of the world from the Americas to Europe, and a bit less so in Asia. But there are certain parts of the Asia Pacific that have their own Christmas traditions.

When it comes to Christmas celebrations around the Asia Pacific, you can start with the Philippines. The holiday season begins early there, and it’s not unusual to see Christmas lights all year round in some places.

A lot of shopping malls start with decorations in September — Christmas carols can start even earlier. In fact, “early decorations” are part of a piece from the Cebu Daily News headlined “Five Things Most Filipinos Abroad Miss about Christmas in the Philippines.” 

Christmas carolers, family reunions and food also make the list, along with church the Asia Society says more than 86% of the population is Catholic.

Elsewhere in the Asia Pacific, the history of colonialism plays a role determining which locations enthusiastically celebrate Christmas — think Australia and Singapore.

Commercial colonialism has an influence. Some with a unique twist like Japan.

Christmas is a date night for many young couples there, but there’s also a somewhat unusual tradition that goes back several decades: Kentucky Fried Chicken. Back in 1974, an opportunistic marketing campaign urged people to celebrate “Christmas in Kentucky” — and the idea exploded.

To this day, some Japanese believe that fried chicken is part of a traditional Christmas celebration in the United States.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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