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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas in China

Some friends and family have asked about Christmas in China, and if (or how) it is celebrated. I found this article online, written by an adotpive mother. Enjoy!

Christmas in China
Feature — By TongguMomma

In 2005, while the husband and I sat in a darkened theater waiting for an acrobat show to start, we couldn’t help but grin as we listened to Christmas carols being piped over the loud speakers. Nor could we help chuckling at the often life-sized Santa posters bedecked with glitter and lights peeking from many storefronts in the old hutong area of Beijing. And we did a triple take when we saw a waitress walk past us wearing a Santa hat.

In late February. In China.

Those memories led me to later investigate the question: “do the Chinese celebrate Christmas in China?” Well, the answer to that is yes and no. A growing number of Chinese, especially young urbanites, celebrate some version of Christmas in China, but the central part of the holiday – the religious celebration of Christ’s birth – is not typically acknowledged nor even known because less than 5% of the 1.3 billion people living in China identify as Christian.

The minority Christian population in China do strive to celebrate Christmas in much the same way that Christians in the Western world celebrate the holiday, but they often face religious persecution. For example, last year, nine women in China’s eastern Henan Province were arrested on Christmas Eve for participating in a nativity play on a public street. Candlelight worships services occur only in church buildings considered “safe,” but Chinese Christians often gather together in small groups in homes to celebrate Christmas Eve together. Typically each attendee receives a special gift bag containing candy (to remind them of the sweetness of God’s gift of Jesus), peanuts (to symbolize the eternal life one receives through Christ) and fruit ( a reminder of the fruits of the Holy Spirit).

For the majority of Chinese, Christmas is a non-religious time of gift-giving, decorations and family gatherings. Chinese businesses definitely contribute to the fast-growing popularity of this very Western holiday: the commercial aspect is quite evident in most large Chinese cities, especially Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. What began in Beijing 25 years ago as a friendly gesture or business ploy to the many 老外, lao wai (foreigners), living in the city is now a common retail marketing scheme aimed at everyone, lao wei and Chinese alike. Advertising campaigns stress the holiday custom of gift-giving, storefront Santas often pass out candies and restaurant waitresses don Santa hats.

Urban Chinese also often adorn their houses with Christmas decorations, most especially lights, lanterns and artificial Christmas trees called “trees of light,” which they decorate with paper chains, paper lanterns and paper flowers. As during Chinese New Year, they will display bowls of oranges and tangerines, symbolizing prosperity and good fortune. Children hang up muslin stockings in the hopes that 圣诞老人, Sheng Dan Lao Ren (Christmas Old Man in Mandarin, referencing Santa Claus), will pay them a visit. On Christmas morning, the children typically receive new clothes and a few toys from their parents, alongside the small gifts that Sheng Dan Lao Ren left in their stockings.

Although most areas of China do not celebrate Christmas as a legal holiday, families often gather together for small celebrations at or around December 25. Some will gather together for caroling parties, although most will not understand the nativity story described in the songs. Large international hotels will host Christmas Eve and Day buffets serving traditional Western favorites such as turkey and stuffing, although most Chinese families will serve food more reminiscent of a traditional Chinese New Year feast. Ta Chiu, a Taoist festival, takes place on December 27th, so many gather together to celebrate that holiday, especially in Hong Kong.

For those families with children adopted from China, it’s fun to incorporate a few Chinese customs into the Christmas holiday. Consider decorating with lanterns as well as lights. Hang paper chains on your Christmas tree. Place a large bowl of oranges and tangerines on your dining room table. Include peanuts and fruits as well as candy in your treat dishes and Christmas stockings. Also be sure to check out Norad’s Santa Tracker, which typically follows Santa as he flies along the Great Wall of China.

And remember to greet others with 欢乐圣诞, Huan Le Sheng Dan (Merry Christmas)!

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