Christmas has been steadily gaining popularity in Mainland China in the last two decades. In the biggest cities, it has been a big commercial success and a newly adopted festive tradition. However, most of the people in China do not celebrate Christmas as people in the West.

In China, only one percent of the population is Christian, therefore the majority only knows few things about Christmas. Because of this, Christmas is usually celebrated in major cities. In these big cities there are Christmas Trees, lights and other decorations on the streets and in department stores. Santa Claus is called ‘Sheng Dan Lao Ren’ and has grottos in shops like in Europe and America.

Most Chinese people do not celebrate Christmas at all. This is especially true in rural and minority areas, where Western and Christian influence are negligible. In addition, Christmas is not a public holiday in Mainland China.

Christmas is not an official holiday in China, so most offices, schools and shops remain open. The western style of Christmas as we know  is more prominent in Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan.

Chinese New Year could be considered as the Chinese version of Christmas and the biggest holiday, but many Chinese people still get in the holiday spirit around the 25th December just for fun.

Chinese children don’t normally leave out cookies and milk for Santa, grass for the reindeer or write a letter detailing their heartfelt wishes, but they can get their photos with the friendly white-bearded father at some department stores.  Colorful, cellophane-wrapped ‘Christmas apples’ are a popular gift. The word “apple” apparently sounds like “Christmas eve” in Mandarin.

There’s a joke going around, “Santa Claus was descending into China from the sky. Due to the heavy smog, he fell to the ground, but no one dared to help him up. While he was still lying in the snow, his bag was ransacked for presents, and his reindeer and sleigh were taken away by the chengguan. Therefore, no Christmas this year.”

Only a few people have a Christmas Tree (or celebrate Christmas at all!). If people do have a tree it is normally a plastic one and might be decorated with paper chains, paper flowers, and paper lanterns (they might also call it a tree of light). The Christmas Trees that most people would see would be in shopping malls!

Most Chinese people who celebrate Christmas do so as a happy occasion for get-together of friends, relatives, and couples. Christmas parties might be held at a friend’s house, McDonald’s, a karaoke cafe, restaurant, or bar. There is a festive atmosphere, and people enjoy the decorations and unusual music. Many younger Chinese see it as a romantic holiday for couples to exchange gifts and date.

Some Chinese have criticized the increasing popularity of Christmas, suggesting that retailers are introducing western customs through the back door and diluting traditional Chinese practices. For most Chinese, however, Christmas is just another among a pretty packed calendar of festivals which are enthusiastically celebrated.

For the mainland, Christmas Day is a regular working day for most. Among younger people, especially in the city, Christmas is seen as a good excuse to hang out with friends and do shipping.  All that said, Macao and Hong Kong, with their colonial Portuguese and British past, celebrate Christmas in a much more recognizable way. There are public holidays, and you can expect to see activities such as church services and caroling in public.

Author: Seerat

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