As you continue to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas or Happy Holiday, let’s look at another culture around the globe celebrate the season. Have you ever wondered if China actually celebrates Christmas? We know China provides millions of seasonal toys and trinkets just by reading the product label in your local store. Yet, what about China in their own neighborhoods?
According to Customs at Christmas, “Until a couple decades ago the answer was, ‘No.’ Sure, Christians in China celebrated Christmas; but, because Christmas is considered a religious holiday, the nation of China did not celebrate Christmas. Slowly but surely the celebration of Christmas is making inroads in the Chinese nation. It still is not a national holiday. . . However, the glamour, the lights, the gaiety, the festivity of Christmas is spreading to cities all over China.”
Christmas celebrations depend on the region of China. The more rural, the rarer. Yet, China’s big cities go all out with fireworks, jugglers, and acrobats opening the season. Food and feasting are also a big part of a Chinese Christmas celebration. In Hong Kong there are two public holidays, Christmas Day (December 25) and Boxing Day (December 26).
According to a well-known touring agency, China Highlights, “Banks are closed on these days. Boxing Day is a British tradition. It is a day for shopping for after-holiday sales and for employers to give gifts to employees. In Macau, Christmas Eve (December 24) and Christmas Day are official public holidays. . . In Taiwan, Christmas is generally celebrated more than in Mainland China but less than in HK and Macau.” The top three Christmas Chinese song versions you may hear are "We Wish You a Merry Christmas", "Silent Night", and "Jingle Bells".
China Christian Christmas
Customs of Christmas also describes “Christians in China call Christmas ‘Sheng Dan Jieh,’ meaning Holy Birth Festival. Many of them celebrate the birth of Christ by attending church services. Churches report that attendance at these Christmas services is growing every year even among non-religious people.”
Although most Chinese people don’t identify Christmas as celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ or give it any religious significance, China Highlights offers us a glimpse into how Chinese Christians do.
“Many of China's Christians celebrate Christmas as the top event of the year, outranking even Chinese New Year, preparing songs and activities weeks before. Christians in China celebrate by going to special church services, which are typically packed to capacity. On Christmas Eve, there are choral performances, and the congregation puts on dance and drama performances. It is called ‘Peaceful Evening' . . . from the translation of the carol ‘Silent Night’). An unusual apple eating tradition has evolved in the country. The word apple . . . sounds like the word "peace" in Mandarin, so people eat apples.”
China Christmas Decorations
In the larger cities who enjoy other festivals, people have fun decorating their houses. Their Christmas trees are called "trees of light" and are decorated with paper chains, paper flowers, and houses are lit with beautiful paper lanterns. Santa Claus is called “Dun Che Lao Ren,” Christmas Old Man, or “Lan Khoong-Khoong,” Nice Old Father. “Children do not leave him cookies and milk or write him letters asking for gifts, but they enjoy seeing Santa in the malls and marketplaces of China and getting photographs made with him.” Exchanging gifts happen at the Chinese New Year instead of Christmas, with exchanging Christmas cards and gifts becoming more popular.
China Christmas Contradiction
Max Fisher, a Washington Post writer (Eight fascinating facts about Christmas in China, December 24, 2012) considered Christmas and Christianity long banned in China as “. . . a fascinating Chinese contradiction: a booming business and ultra-popular holiday in the world's leading Communist and officially non-religious state. The Christmas tradition is quite young there, 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 . . .”
Fisher’s eight facts about China and Christmas include (1) Christmas is treated more like Saint Patrick's Day or Valentine's Day; (2) Chinese Christians still face restrictions against a Western-style holiday; (3) There is a "war on Christmas" in China; (4) Fancy, cellophane-wrapped 'Christmas apples' are a common gift; (5) Jesus who? It's all about Santa (and his "sisters"); (6) In China, Santa Claus is often shown playing the saxophone; (7) Chinese state media now brags that China makes American Christmas possible; (8) A 19th century Chinese Christian leader claimed to be Jesus's brother, then started a civil war killing more than 20 million people.
As you can imagine, #8 left a life-altering cultural scar for the Chinese people. Yet, the Chinese Christmas contradictions only reflect what every culture has experienced over the eons. Cultural traditions are important and deeply rooted in every country’s history and legacy, including our own. Yet, what we do with the Christmas message depends on us. I know this is a stretch, but I could coin a phrase here, “Are we going to throw the baby (Jesus) out with the bathwater (the Message)? What Christmas traditions are you celebrating that fill your heart and home with the message and the manger?