Do they celebrate Christmas in China?
This is one of the biggest questions people ask at this time of year, particularly when its considered that China does not have a huge Christian population (about 5%).
However, Christianity in China is increasingly on the rise, and interestingly so is their recognition of Christmas.
Although most people in China still do not recognise Christmas at all (namely those in rural and minority areas), the holiday is a newly adopted tradition steadily gaining popularity in mainland China.
The commercial aspect of Christmas is becoming a major annual event in the main cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. This can be seen in the way the streets, banks and department stores decorate themselves with trees, lights and decorations, and Christmas music can be heard playing from the end of November.
Shoppers shop excitedly for Christmas promotions, and a Chinese Father Christmas (‘Shen Dan Lao Ren’) can even be seen adding to the festive scene.
In China, Christmas is referred to as ‘Sheng Dan Jieh’, which means Holy Birth Festival. As it is not a public holiday, most offices and schools remain open.
What day is Christmas celebrated in China?
In some places, Christmas is purely a one-day affair, celebrated on the 25th December. In mainland China Christmas is not a public holiday, so people will still go to work and school as normal.
However, some cities like Hong Kong and Macau celebrate Christmas in a much more European fashion. Christmas is a two-day holiday in these places, with banks closed and special sales on Boxing Day. Hong Kong residents have both the 25th and 26th off, while the stock market only runs in the morning of the 24th.
How did Christmas start in China?
It is thought that Christmas first started to become a recognised celebration in Beijing, where many people have moved over from Europe and the United States.
Through years of festive holiday traditions being honoured there, Christmas gained a strong foothold and these traditions soon spread to other major cities including Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau.
By embracing Christmas in its own way, the Chinese government has successfully separated the holiday from its religious origins and now looks on it as a primarily commercialised celebration.
Independent China scholar Gary Sigley says that Christmas’ popularity is largely about “the culture of consumption” and the novelty of a foreign festival.
Christmas Day in China
Many people throw parties on Christmas Eve, either at friends’ houses, McDonalds’, karaoke cafes, restaurants or bars. Others might enjoy a big Christmas dinner at a restaurant, or head out to a special church service where they enjoy choral, dance and drama performances
Before bed, children hang up their muslin stockings that are specially made for filling with gifts. As well as Shen Dan Lao Ren, Father Christmas might also be called Lan Khoong-Khoong (‘Nice Old Father’).
Christmas Day is ushered in with fireworks and street entertainers including jugglers, acrobats and dancers. People lucky enough to get the day off will enjoy a day of feasting and merriment, eating a mix of traditional Chinese and Western foods.
Of course, Christmas is not a public holiday in mainland China so not everyone will get the day off. However, some international companies or those doing business with foreigners may hold some activities and give Christmas presents to employees.
While many people do spend Christmas Day with their families, a growing number of young adults are choosing to spend it primarily with friends. Many traditional Chinese festivals are family-oriented, so the new adapted festival of Christmas is seen as an opportunity to take back some free time and make it a time for friends or romantic partners.
Christmas holiday traditions in China
Like in the West, it is common at Christmas for people to give gifts to loved ones, particularly young couples. Gift hampers including edible Christmas treats are on sale at hotels and specialty stores, while Christmas cards, gift wrap and decorations are easily found at large markets and small shops.
Though some elements of Christmas in China are Westernised, there are some Chinese Christmas traditions that are very different.
For instance, only a small number of people have a Christmas tree. If people do have a tree it is normally plastic and may be decorated with paper chains, paper flowers and paper lanterns (it may also be called a ‘Tree of Light’). Most people would only see Christmas trees when in shopping malls.
Chinese people also like to decorate their homes with paper lanterns too and will cut out red pagodas to paste on the windows.
A tradition that is becoming quite popular in China is giving apples, which can be purchased wrapped in coloured paper. This is because Chinese Christmas Eve is called ‘Ping’an Ye’ meaning ‘peaceful’ or ‘quiet evening’, which is translated from the carol Silent Night. The word for apple in Mandarin is ‘píngguǒ’, which sounds like the word for peace.
Some people like to go carol-singing around Christmas, though not many understand what the carols are about or know the Christmas story. ‘Jingle Bells’ is an especially popular carol in China, along with ‘Silent Night’ and ‘We Wish You A Merry Christmas’.
Those who are Christian will often like to go to special masses at Christmas – especially Midnight Mass which has become very popular. Christmas services are held at a number of state-run churches and various houses of worship in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.
How Do you say “Merry Christmas” in China?
In China you can wish people Merry Christmas by saying “Sheng Dan Kuai Le” in Mandarin or “Seng Dan Fai Lok” in Cantonese.
Food eaten in China at Christmas
Christmas dinner in China is commonly enjoyed on Christmas Eve with friends. One can find a traditional Christmas dinner from most hotels and Western restaurants, while supermarket chains like Jenny Lou’s and Carrefour sell all the trimmings for a home-cooked feast.
However, most Christmas dinners will be an East-meets-West affair, with Eight Treasures Duck being a popular dish and the Chinese version of a stuffed turkey. It is a whole duck stuffed with diced chicken, smoked ham, peeled shrimp, fresh chestnuts, bamboo shoots, dried scallops and mushrooms stir-fried with slightly undercooked rice, soy sauce, ginger, spring onions, white sugar and rice wine.
Other foods enjoyed are likely to include foods associated with Chinese New Year, such as roast barbecued pork, chicken, dumplings and soup with cloud or wood ear fungus (both types of mushrooms).
What is the weather in China on Christmas?
The weather on Christmas Day in China can vary depending on where you spend it. Most of the country has fallen into a freezing winter apart from the south and some places in the southwest, such as Hong Kong, Macau and Hainan Island. In these places you can usually look forward to pleasantly mild/warm temperatures with plentiful sunshine.
North China is very cold and dry. Beijing for instance has an average temperature range of -7 to 3 degrees C and there is usually just one day of rain throughout the whole month. You may see a little snow though, which usually remains for a long time once it has fallen.
In Shanghai, one can expect windy, cold, damp weather in December, with the average temperature being between 2 and 11 degrees C.