Although Christmas is not an official holiday in China, many Chinese people still celebrate it. Despite the fact businesses and public services remain open throughout the season, the festive spirit is pretty contagious! That being said, there are several important differences between western celebrations and those held across mainland China.
Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan all indulge in festivities that we can recognise, with the trappings of our traditional Christmas time evident. Elsewhere, Christmas decorations, food, festivities and gifts are done very differently. Here we reveal how the Chinese celebrate Christmas, their way.
With news that the northern Chinese city of Langfang has recently banned the sale of anything Christmas-themed, you may think that Chinese homes will be decorated rather sparsely during the festive season. Putting up decorations in Chinese homes starts earlier, with many department stores proudly displaying and selling Christmas trees, fairy lights, and other festive decorations as early as late November. Christmas decorations are kept up a lot longer as well. Many shops, banks, and eateries keep the festivities going until February with their choice of décor.
In public spaces, it’s a case of the bigger the better with Christmas decorations, but Chinese homes are more modestly decked out. Most people choose to put up and decorate a small Christmas tree, while a select few decorate the outside of their homes with lights, lanterns, and candles.
The food and festivities
Food and activities both play a vital role in Chinese celebrations, just as they do in the West. You won’t find a turkey with all the trimmings at a Chinese dining table on Christmas day though, as @GoodtoKnow explains:
“A tradition which is becoming rather popular in China is the giving of apples on Christmas Eve. Most stores in China will sell apples wrapped in colourful paper so people can buy them and give them as gifts. The reason behind this? The word for Christmas Eve in Chinese, ‘Ping An Ye’ sounds very similar to the Chinese word for apple, ‘Ping Guo’ and the two things were brought together.”
Along with apples, a traditional Chinese Christmas feast would be similar to the family banquets enjoyed at Chinese New Year. Roast pork, chicken and soup all feature on Chinese Christmas day menus. Activity-wise, Chinese people love to celebrate in style, not just on Christmas day but throughout the festive season. Ice skating and Christmas performances are both popular activities at Christmas time.
Gift giving is just as important in Chinese Christmas culture as it is here. Traditional Chinese gifts for Christmas include Chinese knots, chopsticks, tea, embroidery, paintings, and traditional musical instruments, like Xun. Snuff bottles are also popular gifts in Chinese culture, with many collectables adorned with beautiful paintings or carvings.
Gift giving is widespread in China at Christmas, and so is Santa Claus. Santa Claus makes appearances at department stores and hotels through China, with many children enjoying a visit to the jolly old soul. Unfortunately, Santa doesn’t receive all that much in return. Cookies, milk, and handwritten notes are not traditionally left by children on Christmas eve. Elves also don’t feature, with Santa accompanied by his sisters at his various appearances.
The festive period is a fantastic time to visit China. Get inspired by browsing our Trans-Siberian trips to China today.