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Home  /  Inside China  /  Christmas in China – Who, Where and Why?
Christmas in China – Who, Where and Why? print version
Christmas is becoming a major event in China. Considering the small proportions of Christians in the Chinese population, China is perhaps the country were Christmas is most celebrated as a secular holiday. But can the wide acknowledgement of Christmas in China really be considered as a true Christmas celebration?

Let's face it; Christmas - 圣诞节 (shèngdànjié) is way beyond a Christian event anywhere it is celebrated. The Commercial aspect of this holiday has long been expanding beyond the proportions of a well acknowledged tradition. What makes the commercial celebration in China so different?

In a population with 2-3% Christians, and widespread ignorance about the Christian religion among the rest of the population (much promoted by the socialist regime, which promotes a quite atheist view when it comes to religions other than the Buddhism-Daoism-Confucianism, which are rooted more deeply in Chinese tradition), it is quite surprising that Christmas is becoming a bigger deal every year.

The state doesn't seem to object. Even Communist Party leaders acknowledge the commercial and Westernization aspect of the holiday, understanding that this holiday is hardly a threat or a Christianization promoting event. The Christmas symbols and the sales in shopping malls are completely harmless. And Isn't that the 'spirit' of Christmas?

Fake fir trees in city squares and hotels, Santa miters (Santa Clause - 圣诞老人shèngdànlǎorén) worn by every second teenager, and Christmas decorations hanged in numerous stores, particularly those who aspire to provide a Western flavor to their customers' experience; however, in most of China it is about the atmosphere, and less about actual consumerism, and certainly not a family 'tradition'.

Christmas in China belongs to the young generation, although the elderly are also getting more aware of its existence. No fancy family dinners, not a reunion through gifts (nor free days off work or school), but rather spontaneous celebrations among friends, going out for drinks, singing karaoke and perhaps going on some window-shopping tours.

                                  Santa meets traditional '福', Santa's little vendor and Santa's purse sale - Jinan
                                                                                     (photos by Gil Hizi)

An interesting interpretation of the 'night before Christmas' also takes place, as December 24th is referred to as 平安夜 píngān yè (or 平安节 píngān jié), literally the 'night (or holiday) of peace or stability'. Apples are consumed excessively at this day as apple, 苹果 (píngguǒ), represents with the character 平 ping of 平安夜.

Perhaps the timing is also a key factor in the Christmas celebrations in China. Located in the midway (more or less) between the National Day (国庆节 guóqìngjié) and the Chinese new year, Christmas adds an extra light spice to the intensifying winter. Students and workers can use this opportunity for some activities with friends, unlike the following Chinese New Year and Spring Festival (春节 chūnjié), when they rush to visit their parents.

Why is Christmas celebrated? I was told that in the English learning books, which every Chinese youngster comes across in middle school, there is a long text about Christmas and it's celebrations in the West, giving a good impression on the adolescents.

Otherwise, as many Western themes which are acknowledged in China, the scent of the West, of the US, and the breathing modern, culturally 'advanced' air, is an opportunity which most young Chinese embrace with both hands. And they even manage to accomplish it without emptying their pockets buying over-the-top gifts...

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