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Asian Christians pack churches, soldiers in Afghanistan throw snowballs on white Christmas

Asian Christians pack churches, soldiers in Afghanistan throw snowballs on white Christmas

Christians in the world's most populous Muslim nation, Indonesia, defied terror warnings and flocked to heavily guarded churches, while foreign troops in Afghanistan woke up to a white Christmas and snowball fights.
Soldiers wearing red Santa hats and even a couple dressed as elves walked around Camp Eggers, the main U.S. base in Kabul, as others hurled snowballs.
Shoppers, meanwhile, packed malls awash with tinsel, plastic pine trees and special promotions in mostly Buddhist Japan and predominantly Hindu India, reflecting the ever-growing commercialization of the season worldwide.
But for the most part Christians, who represent a minority in most Asian nations, celebrated the birth of Jesus with services and family feasts. In the Philippines, where those practicing the faith are in the majority, a flurry of mobile phone text greetings swamped networks.
Those wishing to celebrate in Sri Lanka, where the resurgence of a civil war has resulted in spiraling inflation, complained that with the price of eggs and butter six times higher than usual there would be no cake this year.
Tens of thousands of police guarded churches in Indonesia, which has 190 million Muslims but is also home to a significant Christian minority. Six years ago, Muslim extremists bombed churches across the nation as they held Christmas services, killing 19 people.
The United States and Australia warned more attacks were possible this year. The advisories were not based on specific intelligence, but reflect a general belief that extremists are more likely to strike over the holiday season.
"Life and death are in the hands of God," Lolita Utamisari said after attending Mass at the main cathedral in the tropical nation's capital, Jakarta. "We could die anytime, anywhere. Therefore, there is no need to be scared."
On the western side of the vast Asian continent the weather could not have been more different.
Parts of Kashmir, divided between Indian and Pakistan, were blanketed in snow, while American soldiers on central Afghan bases got more than 15 centimeters (6 inches) overnight.
"The white Christmas definitely makes me feel at home," said Navy Master Chief Ozzie Nelson, who grew up with cold winters in New York.
In China, the Communist government allows worship only in churches, mosques and temples run by state-monitored religious groups, and cracks down sharply on violators.
The English-language China Daily had a front-page photo of the Mass in Shanghai and published several comments _ in response to recent calls for the Chinese to resist imported holidays _ urging tolerance.
"Our national culture will not fade only because people are celebrating foreign holidays," one said.
Residents in Australia's drought-affected southeast danced in the streets as summer rains drenched wildfires that have burned out of control for the past three weeks, enabling around 800 volunteer firefighters to go home to their families for Christmas.
"It rained all last night and this morning," said Kirrily Pay, a hotel manager in Woods Point, Victoria, which has been under threat from the blazes. "We had the biggest party, we were absolutely ecstatic, we can't believe we're still here."
In Thailand, Christmas was about shopping, sunbathing and relaxing.
The beaches and bars in Phuket _ a resort still recovering from the 2004 Asian tsunami _ were packed with tourists. Waitresses on Patong beach got into the spirit, dressing up as elves to hand out drink tickets.
Deep in the jungles of Myanmar, the country's ethnic Karen minority celebrated Christmas with prayers and carols in villages and makeshift camps that have been wracked by violence in recent months, witnesses said.
A yearlong government offensive by the military junta has forced more than 25,000 to flee and killed dozens, human rights groups say.


Updated : 2021-04-18 19:46 GMT+08:00