Meet Haraboji, the ‘Korean Santa’: 6 Unique Ways Christmas is celebrated around Asia

Meet the “Korean Santa”: 6 Unique Ways Christmas is Celebrated Across Asia

Learn how these 6 countries in Asia put their own twist to Christmas!

Image credit: Eugene Zhyvchik

Snow, candy and presents come to mind when we think of Christmas. Admittedly, I have to blame this on the carols that are constantly on repeat in shopping malls and the radio during this time of the year. 

Yet, Singapore doesn’t snow and many Asian countries with Christian populations do not celebrate a ‘white Christmas’ in the way it’s typically commemorated in the West. 

From ‘wayang kulit’ performances in Indonesia to Haraboji, the South Korean version of Santa, here are how six Asian countries celebrate Christmas in their own unique ways! 

1. Eating KFC (instead of turkey) during Christmas in Japan

Following the smashing success of marketing campaign “Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!” (Kentucky for Christmas!) in 1974, it has become a local tradition in Japan to have the American fast food for Christmas. Initially offered as an alternative to the traditional turkey for foreigners, Japanese today pre-order their chicken with strawberry sponge cake and wine. They would otherwise queue for a couple of hours at KFC’s physical stores to get their fill.

2. Meet Haraboji, the ‘Korean Santa’

Interestingly, the Koreans have their own twist to the usual Christmas trees and Santa Claus\. They decorate their trees with silk slippers and drums, eat bulgogi (a Korean barbecued beef) instead of turkey, and instead of Santa, they have Haraboji (translates to ‘grandfather’) who’s dressed in green and wears a traditional Korean hat. 

Image credit: Amazon

Also read: Celebrating Christmas in Korea? Get Your Hands on These Holiday Limited Edition Beauty Products!

3. Bright and dancing festive lights across Hong Kong

Businesses and theme parks in Hong Kong all get into the cheer of Christmas with decorations and lights. Most notably Victoria Harbour, where you can see lights strung into Christmas wishes and pulse in rhythm to the music that plays at certain showtimes. 

Image credit: Emily Orpin

4. Mango and banana Christmas trees in India

Instead of delivering presents with the usual reindeers and sleigh, Father Christmas travels via A horse and cart in India.  Indians also decorate their homes with a mango or banana tree, unlike the traditional pine trees. 

Additionally, to show that Jesus is the light of the world, south Indians burn small, oil, clay lamps on the roofs of their houses. 

Image credit: Etienne Girardet

5. ‘Wayang Kulit’ shows are used to depict the birth of Jesus in Indonesia

Largely a secular holiday in Indonesia, many locals take the opportunity to gather with their friends and families over a traditional feast. In Yogyakarta, locals gather to watch a wayang kulit (puppet shadow) show depicting the birth of Jesus. The capital city also has a tradition where residents get together to cover each other’s faces with white powder — to cleanse themselves of mistakes for the new year. 

Image credit: Arian Zwegers

6. In the Philippines, locals celebrate Christmas with parol lanterns 

Lastly, the Philippines is the only country in Asia with a predominantly Catholic population. They take it very seriously, preparing for the sacred occasion months in advance (September). After their obligatory church masses, they celebrate with traditional food such as sticky rice, stuffed chicken and fruit cakes.

Image credit: Keith Bacongco

A unique feature of the celebrations is the use of star-shaped lanterns symbolizing the star of Bethlehem, which guided the Three Kings. Made of rice paper and bamboo, it began as a way to light up the way to churches in the dark. Known as the parol, many places in the Philippines compete over making the best designs and it has now become a household tradition. 

Which of these unique traditions do you know of or practise? On behalf of the TripZilla team, we wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Also read: 2019 Holiday Guide: 10 Most Magical Christmas Markets in Asia & Beyond

About Author

Alicia Chong
Alicia Chong

Besides dreaming of far-fetched locations, Alicia enjoys training herself and others on ice in figure skating.