For families across the world, December is the most wonderful time of the year. Even though Christmas is originally a religious holiday, its secular observation has greatly influenced the-end-of-year celebrations for many international communities. Christmas isn’t an official holiday in China and there isn’t a large Christian population that religiously observes it, but the holiday has grown in popularity in China, especially for younger people. Of course, there are unique Christmas practices that are only seen in China. Here are some of the ways Chinese people celebrate Christmas.
Light-Hearted and Secular
Since Christmas isn’t a religious holiday in China, it’s embraced and accepted as a fun seasonal occasion. Similar to many countries, homes and bustling city centers are adorned in festive decorations, like Christmas trees, dazzling string lights, and ornaments of many sizes. For some places, there may even be fake snow raining down! Besides the iconic decor, people in China do many other familiar activities, like admiring decorations, ice skating, and karaoke. Families and friends get together for dinner and to exchange gifts. Sometimes, it’s a small gathering because people can’t take time off since Christmas is not an official holiday for China and businesses and schools remain open. Nevertheless, people try to have fun during this winter season when they can!
An Apple For The Season
Have you ever been gifted an apple for Christmas? This is a wonderfully distinctive Christmas holiday practice that happens in China. In groceries, shopping malls, and other stores, they will sell wrapped apples in iridescent paper. These apples will typically have a festive message or image carved into its skin as well. These apples are meant to be gifts that people give each other as a way to wish one another a peaceful holiday and new year. The reason the Christmas apples have such a specific purpose lies in the Mandarin Chinese language. In Mandarin, Christmas Eve is translated to “Ping’An Ye,” which means peaceful night. Coincidentally, apple in Mandarin “ping guo.” Because the two words sound similar, they come together in a very festive, meaningful way.
Looking Good, Santa Claus
Yes, there is a Santa Claus in China! However, Chinese children don’t typically leave cookies or milk for him on Christmas Eve. In the Chinese depiction of him, he usually looks the same as the Western iterations of him. Donned in the classic red-white suit and hat ensemble and sprouting an impressive white beard, Santa is overall similar to the jolly St. Nick innumerous people recognize but with a few twists. Some people dressed up as the Christmas icon may wear traditional Chinese clothes. Other Chinese iterations have Santa playing the saxophone of all things (and really, I couldn’t find a reason for this instrument choice). And when Santa Claus is seen in different events around China, he isn’t accompanied by elves, but by his “sisters,” who are women dressed up like elves from the North Pole. Santa Claus in China may be a little different than his Western counterparts, but it’s so fun to see different versions of this prominent Christmas figure.
Christmas is not a grand occasion in China as it is in other countries. Yet, the spirit and merriment still permeates through many family and friends during this season. Make sure to ask your students how they engage in Christmas on your next VIPKid teaching session!
If you enjoy this article, read about winter festivals in China here.