Christmas isn’t a topic you immediately think of when discussing China. Interestingly, the country clearly enjoys this Western holiday throughout the region. It’s become common for malls, businesses, and even major cities to celebrate with festivities and decorations. Although less popular in the rural regions where Western influence hasn’t permeated, large cities have adopted their form of Chinese Christmas. These instances occur because larger cities have larger populations of Christians and Western immigrants. China also has younger generations of people that continue to enjoy the commercial aspects associated with Christmas.
The History of Chinese Christmas Celebrations
The first mention of Christmas in China came shortly after the 2nd World War in a newspaper called The People’s Daily. However, it was only after the opening of the reform era that its popularity slowly grew, mostly due to the lessening of restrictions on western ideas and customs. Compared to China’s total population, China has a small Christian population, officially about 1%, so the adoption of Christmas festivities only really took off after the country achieved greater economic prosperity.
The prosperity in China created the conditions for the commercial aspect of Christmas to grow. Today, China celebrates the season with its own flavor of traditions. The Taoist festival held in Hong Kong called Ta Chiu falls on December 27th also creating a festive mood this time of year.
Chinese Christmas Traditions Are Different from the United States and Europe
China also has a Santa Claus, but he’s called ‘Sheng Dan Lao Ren’, which translates to “Father Christmas”. Shen Dan Lao Ren can be found replete with grottos in shopping malls and manufacturing department stores. Similarly, Christmas parties have become popular. The spirit of sharing meals with family and friends remains the main essence of those Chinese who choose to celebrate.
Christmas day isn’t a public holiday on the mainland. However, more and more cities will put up decorations in and around major commercial centers. Carolers are rare, but people may sing Christmas songs in Karaoke bars, cafes, and homes. Some of the younger people will even host Christmas parties in fast-food franchises like McDonald’s.
Ditch the Christmas Trees, But Not the Peaceful Night
Although most of the world’s plastic Christmas trees come from China, they aren’t a popular addition to most households during this period. Those who do set up a tree, decorate them with paper chains, flowers, and lanterns. It’s also become more common to gift apples on Christmas Eve. This is because the Chinese call Christmas Eve ‘Ping an Ye’, meaning “peaceful night” when translated from the carol Silent Night. Apple in Mandarin sounds similar to peace. Over time, it led to people creating a new tradition where locals wrap up apples before gifting them to others on December 24.
Christmas Celebrations for Locals and Expats
In large cities, traveling groups will perform shows like the Nut Cracker and Swan Lake. Expats will host celebrations both at home at their places of work. It’s also possible to see postmen dress up as Santa Clause while delivering mail on Christmas Day. Overall, we can nearly find Christmas celebrations around the world, and China is no exception.
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