Christmas in Asia and other thoughts

Every year around Christmas time there is usually a rush of articles about Christmas, what it means and stuff like that. What follows is extracted from several papers along with a few things I've picked up from peolpe I know.

Christmas in Asia

Japan. Less than 1% Christian, yet this country happily celebrates Christmas, but a Christmas that has no Jesus or God (but does have god's). Instead it centres around you-know-who (yup, Santa). There's an urban myth, widely held to be true, that some years ago a Tokyo dept store set up a Christmas display, complete with snow, carols and the like - and a Santa on a cross, not as something differnent, but because they really thought that was who it was all about! Ok, so the season was a bit mixed up by the store. But the point is, in Japan, Christmas has nothing at all to do with Christanity, but Santa. And what do people do at Christmas here in the west? Give gifts, maybe go to church, spend time with the family with a dinner? In Japan they do give gifts, but not the rest. Instead it's a time for the youth to have wild nights and wild nights, not just parties! The most "important" thing about Christmas there is a few days later with an important Buddhist and Shinto festival. Oh, and the japanese are mad about Santa. Why Santa and not Jesus?

China. A country that tolerates christians yet also actively persecutes them (but has more christians than any other country). Is there any christmas there? Well apart from the fact that most of the worlds supply of christmas decorations comes from China not to mention the toys, they have christmas too. Admitedly it's only in the big cities and in the upper and rich middle classes (that's how it started in Japan) but it's there. Christmas decorations are also now finding their way into Chinese homes. But is there any Christ in the Chinese christmas? Hardly! Believers wouldn't celebrate openly for fear of persecution and those who do celebrate christmas would have no Jesus, if only not to be associated with christianity.

Hong Kong. That colony is christmas decoration mad. I remember seeing on the news this guy over there in the USA who lights up his house and property with stacks of lights and other stuff every year, spending a fortune. In Hong Kong, almost the entire city looks like that - office blocks, hotels even the gov't buildings. Santa's, trees, the works. But apart from the small number of christians there (mostly catholic Filipino's) it's considered part of the chinese winter solstice festival. No gift giving or family get togethers for christmas day there (that happens on the solstice day), no christmas day is a time for a frenzied shopping rush. On solstice day chinese give "lai see" (lucky money) to others, to ward off evil spirits and satiate the ancestor spirits. Some is burnt, the rest is used on christmas day.

Finally there is Singapore. 12% christian (but most are nominal according to a local I know). Christmas is celebrated there with more enthuiasm than any other asian country, more than most western ones for that matter. But there, the main emphasis is on the retail advertisment, the lure to get people to buy things (at least they are honest about it). Christmas isn't seen as a religious festival (except amongst the christians that is), instead it's a combination of a mega advertising blitz combinied with the chinese practices I mentioned with HK (chinese are a very large % of the population, over 50% I think). And who is the centre of christmas there? Need you ask, santa of course. Displays have christmas trees, snow (fake!), santa's, elves, candy ferris wheels and so on - but nothing that smacks of Christmas. No child in a manger or the like.

Several things came to mind as I read all this, how is it that "we" (as in the "christian" west) have been able to successfully export Santa to asia, yet have had so little success in doing the same with Jesus? And even in those countries where christianity has caught on, like Singapore, Indonesia and the Philipines, it's either a nominal christianity or a christianity so polluted with traditional pagan beliefs that it stretches the imagination to call it christianity. Both are western traditions, both are associated (to one extent or the other) with western religion. Why? Then there's the second thing. Aussie politicians keep saying "we" have to look to asia for our future, asia will be the future world economic capital (if not political), asian economies are all growing rapidly, while the rest are shrinking or growing only slowly. Fine. But what does the ethos of looking to asia for the future say about christmas - and christianity - here in Australia (and the west)? And in the USA for that matter? Does this say that christmas will become increasingly more a matter of Xmas? And if you lump cults and new ageism in with chinese religions, what's that say about christianity?

Other thoughts

A few other items that cropped up at the same time on a christmas/christian theme. Impossible a few years ago, but the leading conservative paper ran an article on "Should christmas be banned". They asked a whole lot of different people in different businesses and areas of society. The only people in favour of keeping christmas were the retail sector, the advertising sector and some of the manufacturing sector - eg toys (surprise, surprise!). The rest, with one exception, said to throw it out. Psychologists, caterers and many others all said get rid of it. Oh, and yes, they did ask a few churches - the response was "mixed" was all they said. What amazes me is not so much that it was said (it's been said before), but where it was said. Maybe we dont have to worry about what asia has done to christmas and the "asian future" we will follow, "we" are doing quite well by ourselves.

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