Red glass ornament with fu Chinese character in gold

Apples, Fried Chicken, and a Very Special Box: Christmas Traditions in Asian Countries

While Christmas is primarily a Western celebration, it’s still observed in many countries throughout Asia. Here are six fun facts about uniquely Asian Christmas traditions.

In China Christmas is called Sheng Dan Jie

The phrase translates as "saint birthday holiday." The Chinese name for Santa Claus, Sheng Dan Lao Ren, translates as “saint birthday old man.” Sheng dan (圣诞) can also refer to the birth of the reigning emperor as well as the birthday of Confucius, the ancient philosopher.

Apples are a go-to Christmas gift in China

A popular recent Christmas tradition in China is the gifting of apples. The apples may be beautifully wrapped or stamped with a message — or both! Why apples? The Chinese word for apple, ping guo, sounds like the one for Christmas Eve, Ping An Ye, which means “peaceful night.” Christmas apples have been dubbed “peace apples,” or ping ping guo, doubling the pun.

Japan's equivalent of Santa Claus is kind of creepy

A Santa-Claus-like figure in Japan is Hoteiosho, a Buddhist monk turned god. Like the western Santa Claus, Hoteiosho keeps tabs on if kids have been nice or naughty, but unlike Saint Nick, it's because he has eyes in the back of his head — literally. So you definitely don’t want try to pull anything behind his back.

In Japan Christmas is Kentucky fried

A popular Christmas tradition in Japan is eating Kentucky Fried Chicken. Thanks to Takeshi Okawara, the manager of the first KFC in Japan, “Kentucky is Christmas!” as a national slogan went viral back in 1974, thus creating the current crispy tradition. It also doesn’t hurt that Colonel Sanders already looks like Santa Claus.

In the Philippines Christmas is celebrated for a looong time

If you think Christmas starts early in the U.S. (cue in-store holiday music right after Halloween), it has nothing on the Philippines. Christmas is celebrated for a whopping four months, from September until January during what are called the “ber” months (i.e., those that end in -ber).

A very special box connects overseas Filipinos to family back home

Filipinos who have gone overseas send back a very special Christmas box called a balikbayan, which translates from Tagalog as “return to country" and refers to someone from the Philippines who has lived abroad. Balikbayans may be packed with items like "Kirkland chocolates, hand-me-down clothes and Spam," toothpaste, deodorant, purses, perfume, and makeup. More than just Christmas gifts, balikbayans "help feed relatives who are struggling, console daughters separated from their mothers, and give far-flung overseas workers a tangible tether to their families."

We hope you enjoyed these festive fun facts! Merry Christmas and happy holidays from all of us at Pearl River!

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