Magical December in Asia: Five Unmissable Festivals!

Magical December in Asia: Five Unmissable Festivals!

In December, a multitude of festivals and celebrations unfold across Asia, marking the festive season. Here are the five most remarkable celebrations during this period!

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Written by Daphne Ha (bloguera de viajes) Updated on 05-12-2023
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1. Christmas

The celebration of Christmas takes place on the evening of December 24th and on December 25th in many countries across Asia, extending beyond the Christian community.

Two Asians decorate a Christmas tree
Festive decoration for Christmas with a dazzling tree and magical ornaments

From December onward, Christmas trees and decorations emerge in shopping centers and public spaces in major metropolises like Singapore, Bangkok, or Tokyo. In Japan, Christmas is regarded as a second Valentine's Day, focusing more on romance than religion: it's an opportunity for lovers to exchange gifts.

Christmas trees and decorations in a shopping mall in Bangkok, Thailand
Christmas trees and decorations in a shopping mall in Bangkok, Thailand

In the Philippines, the Asian country with the highest number of Christians, churches are filled for Christmas masses. The Latin culture inherited from Spanish colonization influences the celebrations, especially the Christmas Eve feast, known as Noche Buena, celebrated with family after the mass.

The Philippines is the country that celebrates Christmas the most in Asia
The Philippines is the country that celebrates Christmas the most in Asia

Vietnam also embraces Christmas in a unique and authentic way. Despite its Christian origins, this celebration has become very popular among the entire Vietnamese population, especially the youth.

Christmas is seen as an opportunity for entertainment, exchanging gifts, and wishing each other good luck and prosperity for the new year. The initial religious dimension has faded, giving way to a festive, friendly, and secular celebration that reflects the Vietnamese culture's ability to integrate foreign traditions.

A Christmas shop in the old quarter of Hanoi, Vietnam
A Christmas shop in the old quarter of Hanoi, Vietnam.
 
Santa Claus''s modes of transportation in Vietnam
Santa Claus's modes of transportation in Vietnam

Thus, the magic and lights of Christmas make their presence felt in many countries across Asia, transcending cultural and religious differences.

Christmas lights up Asia with magic and lights
Christmas lights up Asia with magic and lights
 
  • Where: Vietnam, Thailand, Philippines, Singapore, Japan, China, South Korea, etc.
  • When: December 24 - 25
  • Activities: Spend time with family and friends, decorate homes and streets, visit the mall, exchange gifts, set off fireworks, attend parades and street performances, go to church or mosque.

2. Hmong New Year - Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, and China

This New Year celebration is distinctive to the Hmong, one of the largest ethnic groups in the mountainous region of northern Southeast Asia. The timing varies each year based on the rice harvest calendar. Traditional performances and games are enjoyed by the entire community, making it an ideal opportunity for singles from neighboring villages to encounter potential partners. The festivities are renowned for lasting over 6 weeks!

Children helping their parents with household chores as the New Year approaches
Children helping their parents with household chores as the New Year approaches
 
Hmong children celebrate the festival
Hmong children celebrate the festival
 
Vibrant Hmong market during the last days of the year
Vibrant Hmong market during the last days of the year
 
  • Where: Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, and China
  • When: Approximately 1 month before the Lunar New Year. Typically falls in late December.
  • Activities: Take part in traditional New Year festivities, play folk games, and admire the springtime mountainous landscape.

3. Hoi An Lantern Festival, Vietnam

The Hoi An Lantern Festival takes place on the 14th day of the lunar month when the moon is full. Colorful lanterns are hung throughout the old town, creating a magical atmosphere. This unique festival attracts many Vietnamese and foreign tourists.

During the festival, all vehicles and electric lights in the city are turned off from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Visitors can stroll and admire the lanterns, attend traditional performances, buy paper lanterns to release on the river, or savor the culinary specialties of Hoi An.

Colorful lanterns are hung throughout the old town
Colorful lanterns are hung throughout the old town
 
Lanterns Adorning Every Corner of Hoi An
Lanterns adorning every corner of Hoi An
 
The landscape of Hoi An sparkles in the evening
The landscape of Hoi An sparkles in the evening
 
  • Where: Hoi An, Vietnam
  • When: December 26
  • Activities: Attend artistic performances, release flower lanterns on the Hoai River, explore Hoi An's distinctive cuisine, and admire the old town illuminated by colorful lanterns.

4. New Year (Shogatsu) in Japan

The Japanese New Year, known as Shogatsu, spans from December 31st to January 2nd. While the traditional celebration is based on the Lunar New Year, January 1st has been recognized as the official New Year's Day since 1873. The festival concludes with an address from the emperor on January 2nd, marking the second occasion of the year when the public is allowed to enter the palace.

Lively New Year Atmosphere in Japan
Lively New Year atmosphere in Japan
 
 Prayer for Peace - Japanese Tradition on New Year
Prayer for peace - Japanese tradition on New Year
 
Toshikoshi Soba, a traditional Japanese New Year''s Eve dish, symbolizes health and luck
Toshikoshi Soba, a traditional Japanese New Year's Eve dish, symbolizes health and luck
 
In the first days of the year, the streets fill with brightly colored kimonos
In the first days of the year, the streets fill with brightly colored kimonos
 
  • Where: Japan
  • When: December 31 to January 2
  • Activities: Join the New Year Bell Festival, write New Year's greeting cards, visit a temple, offer lucky money, play traditional games, and savor distinctive Japanese cuisine.

5. Lights Festival at Morning Calm Garden, South Korea

The Morning Calm Garden, a breathtaking botanical haven located in South Korea, just a two-hour train ride from Seoul, features over 5,000 plant species against the scenic backdrop of Chungryeongsan Mountain.

From December to March, the Lights Festival magically transforms the 30-hectare garden. Countless sparkling bulbs illuminate the snowy pathways and trees, creating a captivating winter wonderland.

 The poetic beauty of the garden in broad daylight
The poetic beauty of the garden in broad daylight
 
 In the evening, thousands of bulbs light up, creating a scene of extreme magic
In the evening, thousands of bulbs light up, creating a scene of extreme magic
 
 The garden appears like a fairy tale
The garden appears like a fairy tale

Visitors can stroll under colorful arches leading to different areas of the garden. Shapes of musical instruments and animals are also outlined with light garlands.

The Lights Festival is among the country's most popular winter attractions, offering a delightful outing for the entire family!

  • Where: Seoul, South Korea
  • When: Early December to late March
  • Activities: Walk and admire light displays, enjoy artistic installations, attend a show, savor South Korean dishes and drinks.
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