From Beijing to Shanghai, cities in China celebrate Christmas with trees, lights and colorful decorations. While the government on the mainland does not officially recognize Christmas, it is still a public holiday in Hong Kong. Most citizens must work or attend school, but they still partake of festivities similar to those held in the United States. Both Christians and non-Christians enjoy the merriment and joyful spirit of the Christmas season .
Christmas celebrations were a minor part of Chinese culture in the past, but the influx of western thought propagated by tourists, the internet, television and radio has sparked a change. While Christians make up only a tiny fraction of the population, many more Chinese embrace Christmas. Chinese shops cater to travelers who seek the familiar array of holiday decorations and gifts. As China becomes more diverse, western influence expands.
Christian culture, though still unfamiliar to most Chinese, continues to spread. According to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, over 23 million Christians now live in China, a significant jump over the past three decades. The figure may even be higher than this official estimate. The growing numbers of Christians help to popularize the Christmas holiday.
Christmas in China is called, ” Sheng Dan Jieh ,” or “Holy Birth Festival.” Some people go to a restaurant on Christmas Eve, while others have parties in their homes. Foods may include chicken or duck with an “eight treasure” stuffing, including rice, dried shrimp and lotus seeds. Some Chinese favor steamed beef with rice.
Almond cookies provide a delectable dessert. Made with both almond extract and blanched almonds, these buttery delights please children and adults alike. For Christmas pudding, dates and apricots may substitute for currants and raisins.
Chinese send holiday cards with nativity scenes depicting an Oriental holy family, while businesses play western carols and lure customers with decorations or treats. On Christmas Eve, some Chinese children hang specially made muslin stockings for the old Christmas man, or “Dun Che Lao Ren,” to fill with presents. In some parts of China, he is called Lan Khoong-Khoong, or “nice old father.” Entertainment such as acrobats and jugglers may accompany Christmas fireworks. Christians attend midnight mass; others enjoy the secular celebrations and merriment.
Although Christmas decorations were rarely seen in China as recently as 20 years ago, western traditions now influence every major city. The Christmas tree, called the ” tree of lights ,” dominates the December landscape in shops and homes. Paper lanterns, holly berries and other traditional Chinese ornaments adorn the trees. Other decorations include paper chains and paper flowers.
More paper lanterns, with candles inside, decorate other parts of the home. Red pagodas made of paper grace the windows and walls for luck. Red, the color of fortune, permeates the Christmas ornaments. In addition to Christmas trees, evergreen branches liven up a home’s decor.
How to say ” Merry Christmas ” in Chinese:
Kung His Hsin Nien bing Chu Shen Tan (Mandarin)
Gun Tso Sun Tan’Gung Haw Sun (Cantonese)
The Hong Kong International Christmas Fair, held in 2005, displayed a tree made out of 4,500 cans of fruit and other foods. Ten people built the Christmas tree over a four-day period, and the Hong Kong fair officials proclaimed it a first for Asia.