For an exotic holiday with plenty of good cheer this Christmas consider taking your celebrations to the Eastern hemisphere. Not only can you leave your jackets and scarves at home with gloriously warm weather across much of the region, but many Asian nations do get right into the Christmas spirit with celebrations, trees, decorations and good food on offer. Here are five different destinations to consider for a great holiday this year.
Singapore is particularly festive at Christmas with light shows, cultural events and other family friendly things happening around the city state. Key areas like Orchard Road, Marina Bay and Sentosa Island come alive with lights and celebrations. For 6-7 weeks from mid-Nov to early January Orchard Road transforms into the ultimate Christmas wonderland. The buildings along the road compete in a “best dressed” contest and liberally drape themselves in Christmas paraphernalia. There’s also the Christmas Light-Up Ceremony when thousands of candles and shopping street lights set off the street for over 5km. Colourful Christmas floats often make the rounds at night and there’s a giant 15m tall Christmas tree to enjoy as well. Orchard Road is particularly busy on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and the weekends leading up to the holiday. If you’re not that keen on Christmas things or shopping, then head to the world class Singapore Zoo, Sentosa Island’s Universal Studios, explore Chinatown and eat well through the Christmas season on famous Singapore crabs.
The Japanese are not adverse to celebrating Christmas and department stores across the nation usually get into the spirit if you want chocolate Santa Claus, Christmas trees and tinsel. However one of the best reasons to visit Japan over Christmas is to enjoy the fine ski season. There are more than 500 ski resorts to choose from in Japan. The Hakkaido and Nagano region are probably the most popular and well known and all the resorts have an onsen (hot spring) where you can strip down, have a scrub and warm soak after a day out on the slopes. The perfect way to spend a Christmas holiday, and it’s cheaper than skiing in North America or Europe.
The Philippines is one of only two Asian nations with a predominantly Roman Catholic population (the other being East Timor) and this means Christmas is a big deal with numerous mall sales and festivities around the country. The Philippines reportedly has the world’s longest Christmas season with carols starting in September and lasting until January 9 for the feast of the Black Nazarene. Carolers can typically be found going from door to door. In the Philippines not only are shops and churches decorated, but stars shaped lanterns known as parols are hung absolutely everywhere and there’s a giant lantern festival held in San Fernando City. Dawn masses known as Simbang Gabi begin on 16 December and run over nine nights until Christmas Eve. After this final Midnight Mass families celebrate with a feast of traditional food. It’s a good season to be hungry in the Philippines as you’ll find plenty of food carts and stands during the Christmas season. Wherever you are expect to see fabulous Christmas displays, numerous Christmas parties and plenty of Christmas zeal.
If you’re not seeking Christmas pageantry then one of the Philippines’ 7000 idyllic islands may be just the holiday spot you need. There are glorious white sand beaches at Boracay, wonderful limestone rock formations in the Coron Islands, excellent diving in Bohol province, whale sharks to see in Donsol Bay between November and June, the phenomenal rice terraces of Banaue, historic Spanish towns like Vigan and plenty of megacities where you can shop and eat.
Another Catholic destination to consider at Christmas is the wonderful coastal state of Goa which the Portuguese once called home. Christmas brings some of the best weather to the state and along with the Portuguese styled white washed churches with their prayers and carols, it’s a particularly vibrant time to visit with homes, shops and churches decked out with Christmas decorations. If the church going scene isn’t your thing there are plenty of sun drenched beaches and coconut palms to enjoy; the beautiful historic centres of Panjim and old Goa; excellent Goan cuisine featuring fresh salads, fruit, coconut based curries and vegetables; and as it’s also peak holiday season the nightclubs and discotheques are in full swing. Thanks to its Catholic roots, Goa also is more liberal than other parts of India and beef and alcohol are also easily available.
Seoul, South Korea
Seoul has a relatively large Christian population for an Asian country at 30 percent and Christmas is an official public holiday, so you can expect the usual parties, gift giving, card sending and other seasonal elements. Apart from the usual traditional Christmas celebrations, December 25 is also treated as a couples day particularly by young people and K-pop groups usually make the most of this by releasing romantic ballads at this time. Cakes are reportedly very popular at Christmas and window shopping past patisseries for extravagant and decorative cakes is fun, just get in early with your own order.
It doesn’t necessarily snow much over Christmas in Seoul but temperatures can reach zero, making it the perfect opportunity to enjoy the Korean art of jjimjilbang or luxury spas. Some spas are open 24 hours meaning you can get your body scrub, massage or long hot soak at any time of the day or night. There are plenty of saunas and spas across the town. The cold weather also gives you a good excuse to eat Korean trying foods like soondubu jiggae (a Korean stew), dakjuk (chicken porridge), seolleongtang (ox tail soup), bulgogi (barbecued beef in lettuce) or bibimbap (rice with egg, meat, vegetables and sauce). Seoul also has a fantastic outdoor ice skating rink in winter and there are also sledding centres like at the Everland Park.