Q: I expect to hear holiday music when I shop on base, but I’ve been surprised to hear it in off-base stores — which are decked out in Christmas decorations — in Japan and South Korea. I would have thought Christmas would barely be noticed here, since not very many people are Christian. What’s up with that?

A: The CIA World Factbook says 0.7 percent of Japanese consider themselves Christian. It’s not hard, though, to see that a much, much higher percentage of the population observes Christmas anyway.

But you won’t see many Nativity scenes around — the parts of Christmas that translate in Japan are purely festive. Stores have Christmas sales and deck the halls in holiday cheer, and in homes Christmas trees and even outdoor Christmas lights are becoming popular. Children get gifts from Santa, but there are no gifts under the tree — if there is a tree — for parents.

The story’s much the same in South Korea, even with its greater Christian population — about 25 percent. For most Koreans, Christmas is just another day. Another day that’s preceded by several weeks of omnipresent holiday songs and decorations. Couples exchange gifts, and parents give presents to their children.

But for adults, the most important part of Christmas is the social scene. In Japan, having a date on Christmas Eve is absolutely crucial. Restaurants are booked far in advance, and invitations to Christmas parties are coveted.

In South Korea, young people tend to head out in groups — no matter that bars and restaurants sometimes double their prices for the occasion. Anyone left standing in the cold feels anything but merry.

Got a question about goings-on in the Pacific? E-mail Stacy Chandler at

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