Christmas is celebrated by billions of people around the world. But do people in China celebrate Christmas?
The short answer is yes, though they celebrate it in different ways to people in the West.
For most Chinese people, there is no religious meaning attached to Christmas. Instead, Christmas means shopping!
Large shopping malls are typically open late to cash in on the Christmas craze, and carols can often be heard playing in the stores.
Chinese people love the kitsch element of Christmas. There is no shortage of Christmas trees, bright decorations and flashing lights!
Many retailers even have sales staff dressed in Santa Claus costumes.
Kids love being brought into the cities to experience the excitement of the festival. However, children in China generally don’t wake up to find presents left under the tree by Santa.
As coined by The Washington Post, Christmas is treated more like Saint Patrick's Day or Valentine's Day. That is, it’s a great day for going out and being with friends, not for staying in with family, as we do in the West.
Why do Chinese people celebrate Christmas?
China’s government is officially atheist. So why do Chinese people celebrate Christmas?
As the Chinese economy started to open up a few decades ago, many Western traditions, trends and ideas started to influence Chinese culture. Christmas was one of them.
However, China only took on certain parts of this tradition, like Christmas trees and the concept of Santa Claus. It then added its own commercial flair to it.
The result is Christmas with Chinese characteristics.
Going shopping at Christmas is a typically Chinese characteristic.
When Chinese people celebrate Christmas, they’re not celebrating it in a religious sense. In fact, most people aren’t aware of the history of Christmas or the religious aspect.
To many Chinese, particularly the younger generation, it doesn’t matter whether a tradition is Western or Chinese. It’s simply an opportunity to enjoy a mainstream international celebration.
What do Chinese people give each other at Christmas?
In Mandarin, the word ‘apple’ (pronounced píngguǒ) sounds similar to ‘peace’ (píngān).
Due to this similarity, and in keeping with the Christmas tradition of gift-giving, some Chinese people give apples to their friends.
Christmas apples are wrapped in decorative paper and sold at markets and stores.
This is a relatively new phenomenon embraced by the younger generation.
Is Christmas a public holiday in China?
Unlike Western countries, Chinese people have to work during Christmas. It’s not a public holiday in China.
However, it’s a different story in the special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau.
Christmas Day and the first weekday after Christmas are public holidays in Hong Kong, while Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are observed in Macau.
If you’re teaching in mainland China, you might enjoy a day off for Christmas. It depends on the contract you’re on.
Christmas is not a public holiday in mainland China, but some TEFL teachers get the day off.
When is the most popular time to celebrate Christmas?
Christmas Eve is the most popular time to celebrate.
Cities are abuzz on December 24 as people catch up with friends, share a meal and, of course, go shopping.
How do you say ‘Merry Christmas’ in Chinese?
In pinyin it’s shèngdàn jié kuàilè or in Chinese characters:圣诞节快乐!
It’s not all tinsel and holly
In some places in China, Christmas celebrations have been banned by the country’s Communist authorities.
As reported in The South China Morning Post, members of the Communist Party’s Youth League at the University of South China in Hunan province were asked to sign a code of conduct which told them not to participate in Christmas-related celebrations.
Similarly, the Youth League at Shenyang Pharmaceutical University in Liaoning province banned student groups from organising on-campus events to mark Christian festivals such as Christmas to “build cultural confidence”.
Meanwhile in Hengyang, the second largest city in Hunan province, celebrating Christmas is not only forbidden for members of the party but, according to an official Weibo account, members of the public are “banned from occupying streets for parties and celebrations on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day”.
Foreigners can enjoy a traditional feast
Foreign teachers in China wanting to enjoy a traditional Christmas feast shouldn’t have a problem.
Major hotel restaurants and some Western-style restaurants offer a Christmas lunch or dinner (or both), though it’s worth shopping around as quality and price can vary. A buffet-style meal could easily set you back 300 yuan (US$40).
If you prefer making the Christmas meal yourself, most of the trimmings can be picked up from foreign stores like Walmart, Metro and Carrefour.
However, as you’re unlikely to have an oven you may want to give the roast turkey a miss!