A Christian holiday?
It appears like a plausible assumption -- people in countries that lack Christian traditions would probably not know what’s what regarding Christian holidays. They might not have a clue when a certain holiday occurs. And they could even be completely ignorant of its very existence. This looks like a reasonable hypothesis, leading you to think that people in Muslim, Buddhist, Animist, et. al. countries don’t care whether it’s Christmas time or not.
Reasonable like it may seem, it turns out to be dead wrong. The main reason is that Christmas is no longer a Christian holiday, but an important commercial festival worldwide. So in all countries that have become sufficiently advanced commercially -- regardless of religion -- Christmas time is well noted and eagerly utilised for making a buck, honest or otherwise. The locals may not have heard much about when or why or where Jesus was born, but they understand perfectly the pecuniarily pertinent facts about Santa Claus, the Christmas tree, and Christmas presents.
Jingle bells in Kuala Lumpur, with no Christian in sight
A few years back I spent Christmas and New Year’s travelling all over the Malayan Peninsula. Here people are Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Taoist etc., with almost no Christians. But in all shopping malls in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Penang and other cities my ears were drenched by Jingle Bells, Tannenbaum and White Christmas (mainly in instrumental versions), while my eyes were blinded by plastic Christmas trees and brightly shining Christmas decorations. Almost like home, but without a Christian in sight.
It was not always like that, and in less commercially advanced regions like Afghanistan, Sudan and poor African countries it probably still isn’t. But it seems that the mighty Dollar, Euro and Yen are currently more persuasive missionaries for getting people to make their Christmas Merry than the monks and preachers of yesteryear.
Santa’s soul in the snow
I don’t know if Santa Claus is bigger than The Beatles, but he sure makes more money than Jesus. He does a better job of promoting commerce worldwide than any advertising agency. Where does he live? Well, it depends on how you look at it.
Writing a letter to Santa Claus is quite straightforward: you just write "Santa Claus (or Jultomten, Julemanden, Julenissen, Jõuluvana, Weinachtsmann, depending on your language), Rovaniemi, Finland". Rovaniemi used to be a puny village in the middle of nowhere, erected directly on the icy Arctic Circle in Finnish Lapland. But the commercial cult of Santa Claus has in relatively few decades turned the small Rovaniemi village into the booming City of Rovaniemi with huge hotels, expensive restaurants and a lively nightlife in this godforsaken, marrow-chilling part of the world. It also has a large post office, mostly for handling the letters to Santa.
Santa’s bones in the sun
Yes, the true commercial soul of Santa Claus rests in Rovaniemi, Finland. But his bones lie further south, in sunny Italy. Because the man behind the Santa Claus legend is a Catholic saint, St. Nicolaus. In contrast to most Catholic saints, he didn’t meet with a gruesome death at all, but died peacefully during the early part of the 1st millennium, and was buried in Myra (present-day Demre) in present-day Turkey.
In the Middle Ages there was a booming business in saintly bones. Bones of a notable saint would attract plenty of pilgrims to a city, and hence plenty of business. So the mariners of Bari (a grand city on the heel of the Italian peninsula) sailed out and stole the bones of Santa Claus in 1087. On their way home they were attacked by the Venetians, but succeeded in keeping Santa Claus for themselves by offering the Venetians a different set of bones, which they deviously claimed to be the real ones. So since 1087 the bones of Santa Claus lie on exhibit in the city of Bari, in the Puglia (Apulia) region of Southern Italy. And here they are still good for business.
The merchants of Kuala Lumpur and Penang may not know all this in detail, but they can surely smell the money, like all commercially-leaning people have done since 1087. Because this is what Christmas is all about, in the 2000's. Jesus or Christianity is not particularly important for Christmas business, anywhere.
On-site inspection of St. Nicolaus' bones (by noder)
On-site inspection of the city of Rovaniemi (by noder)