Does China celebrate Christmas?
Unlike Europe, which is historically very Christian, only 1% of China’s population is Christian. For them there are midnight services in cities like in Europe. Chinese Christians are more serious about the religious aspect and do not practice the Santa Claus myth for kids.
However, exchanges and trade with the West for centuries led to the popularization of this end of year party, especially in Chinese’s biggest cities. Nowadays, Christmas is also done in China by the major part of city inhabitants, but in a different way than in Europe. Even if this year, due to the COVID and the Chineses prevention measures, most of the Chinese people did not celebrate Christmas, previous years China celebrated Christmas. This is why this article purpose is “How does China usually celebrate Christmas?”
Similarities with the Western Christmas
If you have just arrived in one of China’s biggest cities for Christmas and you go outside, in the streets or shopping mall, you may first think that Chinese people do Christmas the same as in the West. Indeed, you can see huge Christmas Trees but also vendors, postmen and waiters dressed as Santa Claus, called “shen dan lao shi” in Chinese. However, there are usually no exterior decoration neither lights nor outside garlands.
Even if big cities such as Beijing or Shanghai put some Christmas decorations in public places, Chinese people do not put any at home.
In shopping centers, you can hear some Christmas songs, like “Jingle bell” among others, that are very popular! In the shelves, you may also find many traditional West Christian and overseas products food such as frozen turkey, salmon or ice chestnuts. But neither kid’s toys nor gifts advertising on TV or display. Christmas is not a sales promotion period.
Differences in the signification of Christmas
For Chinese people, 圣诞节, “ Shèngdàn jié” alias Christmas, is only on the 24th evening. It is a special day, but although part of the population celebrates Christmas, there is no public holiday.
The Chinese call Christmas Eve “Ping’an ye”, that means peaceful evening. As the pronunciation is very close to “pingguo” which means apple, so nowadays, the apple has become a peace symbol in China. So, Chinese people are used to offering apples wrapped in colored paper as a present to theirs relatives and loved ones during Christmas.
Most of the Chinese who celebrate Christmas do not know the religious story and beliefs behind this event. They just consider it as a western party and like to do it as well.
Differences in the way of celebrating Christmas in China
Unlike in Occident, where Christmas is an important family day, in China it is mostly a friend’s day, a kid’s day or a couple’s day.
Couples spend the 24th December as Valentine’s Day. Lovers offer small romantics gifts such as flowers, jewels, or candles to each other. They go outside on dates in parks, in cinemas, in coffees or in restaurants. They just spend time together, face to face.
Christmas in China is quite like the French New Year. Youngsters usually spend Christmas outside in karaoke, restaurants, nightclubs, bars and so on. The purpose of this evening is having fun, sharing moments, and holding a theme party. Sometimes, everyone purchases one small gift, with a maximal value of 20 yuans (approximatively 2,50€), they will then exchange presents between them.
For families with young children, they spend Christmas doing kids activities, preferably outside, with other parents and children. Then, in the evening, they all party together, with grouping of few families with kids of the similar ages.
Every year China observes more and more of its citizens celebrating Christmas. This shows the motivation of sharing and the desire to exchange and discover the culture of others, in this case the Western culture.
We can note similarities with Europeans behaviors, who are more and more fascinated by the Chinese New Year. Today some even celebrate the lunar new year according to the traditional Chinese culture.
An happy celebration?
In definitive, this article shows us that no matter the culture, the beliefs, or the way of celebrating Christmas, the final result is the same: sharing a good time with those close to you and enjoying an evening of happiness.
However, there is still a debate in China about accepting Christmas or not doing so. Some Chinese nationalists do not appreciate the magnitude of Christmas in the country. They consider it as a threat to the traditional Chinese culture. Some cities, public bodies and government institutions even order citizens not to celebrate Christmas. They prohibit Christmas decorations in town as well as any allusion to the western holiday. They urge Chinese people to focus on promoting traditional Chinese culture in China and abroad.
How will Christmas in China evolve in the future? Only time will tell us.