The Geopolitics of Christmas

Stratfor: For Christians in Japan, 1597 was a bad year. After a decade or more of worrying that this foreign religious sect was weakening the country, Japanese officials decided to implement a final solution. They rounded up all the believers they could find, tortured them and then crucified them. To make sure, the government repeated the exercise in 1613, 1630 and 1632, driving Christianity underground for centuries. Even today, less than one Japanese person in 100 is Christian. And yet on Dec. 25, Japan’s big cities were all lit up for Christmas. Young couples went to parties, sang around Christmas trees and feasted on Kentucky Fried Chicken before opening presents brought by Santa-san.

Turkey, which has even fewer Christians (barely one Turk in 500 follows Jesus), sees very similar scenes, as Stratfor Editor-in-Chief David Judson described in his Christmas Day column. In Taiwan, where just one person in 20 is Christian, Dec. 25 is a public holiday — Taipei is crowded with carol singers and Santa dispenses gifts in the major department stores. Even in Bali, where only one person in 40 is Christian, celebrants can buy Christmas trees made from chicken feathers.

All this would probably have delighted Christians back in 1597, but even so, Christmas is still not a truly global festival. Pakistanis also take Dec. 25 off, but they do it to celebrate the birthday of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the country’s first governor general, not that of Jesus. Somalia’s government this year banned Christmas celebrations altogether, and in Brunei, even though one person in 10 is Christian, anyone donning a Santa suit faces up to five years in jail.

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