The GuideinChina Christmas Series – Throughout this holiday season we aim to bring you wonderful insight to make this Christmas in China your best yet.
One holiday tradition during the Christmas season is the art of storytelling, where today’s part of the series brings you a story filled with wonder and fascinating information about Christmas in China!
Many years ago, on a snowy winter afternoon, I once took my handsome personal trainer (who, sadly was about to return home to China after several years in the UK) – on a beautiful tour around the Maritime museum in Greenwich. We stopped in, on his request, at one of the specialized stores that sells only Christmas-related knick-knacks. As he poked through the Santa ornaments and engraved placards, whilst surrounding shop assistants stopped to help and swoon over him, I asked him what Christmas was like in China. He sighed, inspecting a porcelain Frosty the Snowman. "It's too commercial."
A booming business and ultra-popular holiday in the world's leading Communist and officially non-religious state. The Christmas tradition is quite young here, but just like so many foreign customs that China has for centuries absorbed and made its own, the holiday has already developed its own Chinese characteristics. They are revealing, fascinating, and at points quite baffling – for an outsider like myself, anyway. Here are just a few.
1. Christmas is treated more like Saint Patrick's Day or Valentine's Day:
That is, it's a lighthearted day for going out and being with friends, not for staying in with family, as we do in the West. Typical ways to celebrate include seeing a movie, going to a karaoke bar, or shopping. China Daily says Christmas Eve is the biggest shopping day of the year. Young couples often treat it as a romantic day. Ice skating and amusement parks are popular destinations.
A decorated Chinese Mall Photo:.people.com.cn
2. In China, Santa Claus is often shown playing the saxophone.
The holiday's mascot is well-known, although for some reason he is portrayed, with startling frequency, as jamming out on a sax, Bill Clinton-style. Sometimes he is playing a trumpet or French horn. I have tried and failed to find the roots of this tradition; please chime in with a comment if you have any insights. Here's a representative image from Beijing:
After seeing Santa play the saxophone, I’d also feel the same. Photo: Beijing Insider
3. Fancy, cellophane-wrapped 'Christmas apples' are a common gift.
This is because the word "apple" apparently sounds like "Christmas eve" in Mandarin. The apples might bear fancy wrapping and be printed with holiday messages, such as this apple bearing Santa Claus's likeness and the words "Merry X-Mas."
Photo: Global Times
4. Jesus who? It's all about Santa (and his "sisters").
Americans may be familiar with the shopping mall practice of having young workers, typically women, dress up as Santa's "helper elves." In China, the fact that these costumed women are supposed to be elves is apparently lost in translation sometimes, with the women simply known as Santa's friends or "sisters." And Santas often travel in packs.
Santa’s with their “Sisters” Photo: China Daily
5. China makes the whole world’s Christmas possible!
The state-run People's Daily announced, "American fellows, it is Christmas time, a time to wake up, have a strong cup of coffee, and see what gifts a Chinese Santa Claus really delivers." The article argues that the West could not celebrate Christmas without China's exports and that we should spend the holiday expressing gratitude for Chinese manufacturing. The article concludes, "This Christmas morning, when you wake up and smell this cup of coffee, accept your gifts with gratitude." Which is true if you think about it… Santa’s workshop was never in the North Pole, it was always in China. But let’s not tell the kids just yet!
The Real Santa’s workshop Photo:unknownfieldsdivision
6. A 19th century Chinese Christian leader claimed to be Jesus's brother, then started a civil war.
A man named Hong Xiuquan, born in 1814 as missionaries were spreading Christianity in China, had visions that led him to believe that he was the second son of God, who had commanded him to rid China of sacrilegious practices. Hong formed a movement called the Heavenly Kingdom, which rose up and came to control vast swathes of southern China. The civil war of 1850 to 1864, also known as the Taiping Rebellion, ultimately killed perhaps 20 million people, or approximately as many people as World War One. I can understand why religion can make the government so skittish!
The man who claimed to be a second Jesus! Photo: galleryhistoricalfigures.com
7. It’s the time to express goodwill and philanthropy
Chinese Christmas day is also an occasion to share goodwill and be generous to people in need like orphans, elders living alone, homeless, or disabled people. This is quite like western countries: Statistics prove, that people are more willing to donate money during the Christmas time, hoping that poor people also have the opportunity to celebrate Christmas..
Greetings in Chinese: 'Sheng Dan Kuai Le or 圣诞快乐' photo: The Times
8. There is No Day off!
Christmas is not considered as a public holiday and people don’t get a day off.
It is a booming business and extremely-popular holiday in this country! Per China Daily, Christmas Eve is the biggest shopping day of the year. So, it is not surprising to see that the streets are ablaze with lights in shape of Christmas ornaments especially in shopping districts of big cities.
Western companies know how important glitz and glamour is to China during this time of the year to promote their businesses to local consumers. Other shops and brands are also promoting lots of Christmas style wrapped commodities and offer special discounts in China during this period! Taking a day off is therefore co-operate suicide during this highly lucrative season!
Santa Baby! All I want for Christmas is a Tiffany Ring. Photo: Reuters
Do you know some more interesting facts about Christmas in China? Share your experiences with us! We would love to hear more about it!
Here’s to GuideinChina and HiredChina bringing you a number of goodies during our Christmas Special!
Stay off the naughty list and see you soon!