Patron: Her Excellency, The Right Honourable Dame Cindy Kiro, GNZM, QSO, Governor-General of New Zealand

The Festive Period in Asia

By Dr Anita Perkins 

Twenty seventeen has been an intense year for geopolitics in the Asia Pacific. The Asia Forum’s talks here in Wellington have given us a great diversity of perspectives through which to make sense of what is taking place. As we move to the end of year it is a time for both reflection and forward-planning.

Now is a time to be merry and celebrate with co-workers, friends and family. Here in New Zealand we tend to celebrate a summer Christmas on the 25th with Christmas trees, family get-togethers and presents. But around Asia there are various kinds of celebrations over the December, January festive period. Here we take a look at a few traditions you may not have heard of in India, the Philippines and Japan


Around Christmas time, when celebrating the festive season some Christian Indians dress statues of Mother Mary in a Sari, for example in Bangalore, India. Some Hindu Indians celebrate Christmas in a more secular way. The Hindu holiday of Maker Sankranti is celebrated 13 January to mark the sun going into the zodiac sign of Makar, which makes the days longer.

The Philippines

As a largely Christian country, Christmas in the Philippines is celebrated over several weeks with both Western and Filipino traditions. This includes the Filipino Christmas tradition called ‘Simbang Gabi’, introduced by Spanish friars. A series of nine dawn masses take place between 16th and 24th December.


For Japanese families, New Year is a very important family celebration. Some people celebrate Christmas with more light-hearted traditions such as eating sponge Christmas cake, and Christmas Eve is celebrated as a romantic evening by some couples, in a comparable way to Valentine’s Day.