Christmas in China
Christmas is almost here! I never really celebrated Christmas much during my first years in China as it’s a normal working day here and I couldn’t see the point, but a couple of years ago I started organizing and cooking a somewhat special Christmas Eve dinner for my husband and his parents. I say “somewhat” because I’m not exactly a great cook, but I looked for recipes online and tried my best. C. has always liked western food and his parents are quite open to try new foods, so I think they liked it.
Then last year we bought a small plastic Christmas tree and Christmas stockings. I got gifts for C., his parents and the baby, and C. prepared a gift for me. I’m not very much a gift person because I’m currently on a phase in which I want to avoid buying things people don’t need, so choosing Christmas gifts is quite a difficult task for me. I always want to choose things that the receiver needs or wants, but with my husband that is extremely difficult because when he wants something he just buys it immediately. Last year the gift I chose for him was a total failure as two days before Christmas he bought the exact same thing himself… I wanted to kill him when I saw it.
But in this post I also wanted to talk about what people normally do for Christmas in China. First of all, as I said before, it’s not a holiday, so everybody has to work. Because it’s not a holiday in China, there aren’t really any traditions and most of the things that people know about it come from (American) movies. Many people here don’t know it has anything to do with religion. Well, that’s understandable, as in the American movies the religious part is never mentioned. When I asked my MIL if she knew what Christmas was about, she said it was Santa Claus’ birthday! Hehehe. But well, if she asked me about some Buddhist festivity I wouldn’t know either.
Christmas in China has some special characteristics, though. One of them is that some Chinese people give apples as presents for Christmas Eve. Why? Because in Chinese Christmas Eve is 平安夜 (ping an ye, “peaceful night”) and apple is 苹果 (ping guo). Those two ping have the same pronunciation and the writing is very similar, and Chinese people love relating two concepts based on the similarity between their respective names (that’s why the number 4 in Chinese is bad luck: its pronunciation sounds like “death”). Those Christmas Eve apples are huge and come in a pretty box or are wrapped with colourful paper. And they are way more expensive than a normal apple (even though they are a normal apple…)
Another thing that is also different here is that Christmas Eve, for young people, is a romantic night to spend with your boyfriend or girlfriend having dinner in a nice restaurant. I remember the Christmas when I was working in Shanghai, on Christmas Eve when I walked back home all the restaurants on the way had a lot of couples waiting outside. In Spain, Christmas is not a romantic holiday at all but, watching all those Christmasy American romantic comedies, it’s not strange that Chinese young people got that idea.
One thing that is the same in countries were Christmas is officially celebrated and in China is the consumist aspect of it. Here it’s not traditional to exchange gifts and I don’t think Santa Claus visits many Chinese children, but that is changing or at least Christmas has become another excuse to buy things. The one difference with my home country is that in Spain, there are no sales or discounts before Christmas… gifts are bought at full price! And sales don’t start until January 7th, because January 6th is the Three Wise Kings day, when Spanish children traditionally receive gifts. In China, there are sales everywhere now, both in physical stores and online!
Last year there was in China some kind of campaign to keep people from celebrating Christmas and, as far as I know, malls were banned from putting up Christmas decorations. The official excuse was that Chinese New Year should be more important in terms of mall decorations, but there was probably also a fair bit of “let’s boycott foreign holidays”. I even read stupid WeChat articles saying that Chinese people should celebrate the 26th of December (Mao’s birthday) and that Christmas was in fact the evil foreigners celebrating a humiliating defeat of the Chinese (I swear I read this; no idea what it was referring to; and yes, some people here think that absolutely everything is about China). But this year it seems that campaign has been forgotten as the couple of malls I’ve been to had Christmas decorations. Yaaay! Banning one holiday to encourage the celebration of another is not exactly a great plan. I’ll post some pictures of the malls decorations I saw:
Wish you all a Merry Christmas! Please share if you have any special plans or a good gift idea for my husband xD