In China’s cities like Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, Christmas has become increasingly popular among young people and is celebrated more as a cultural than a religious event. Shopping malls, restaurants, and entertainment venues are adorned with Christmas decorations, and it is not uncommon for people to exchange gifts and gather for festive meals.
Giant Christmas trees adorned with lights, tinsel, and gift boxes greet shoppers at glittering malls in big Chinese cities like Shanghai and Chongqing, but extending season greetings is out of the question in many parts of China.
In southwest Yunnan province, a property management company issued a notice to shopping mall tenants urging them not to sell Christmas cards and presents and to even refrain from hanging decorations, saying foreign traditions should not be “blindly” followed, and one should be confident in one’s culture.
Schools in some cities, from Dongguan in the south to Harbin in the northeast, similarly called on students and parents not to follow foreign traditions and cultures without thinking.
In Gansu province in China’s northwest, a local branch of the Communist Youth League told its members to instead celebrate “The Battle at Lake Changjin”, a 2021 Chinese film depicting a fierce fight between the Chinese People’s Voluntary Army and U.S. forces during the Korean War.
China does not ban Christianity or forbid Christian worship, but like all permitted religions, it must be strictly managed and governed amid concern about “foreign influences”.
Christmas Day is not a public holiday in mainland China, where Buddhism and Taoism are the major religions, with ancestral worship also a common practice. The ruling Communist Party is officially atheist.
Wang Huning, the fourth-ranked member of the party’s powerful Politburo Standing Committee led by President Xi Jinping, told Christian groups last week to “adhere to the direction of the sinicisation of Christianity”.
“(We must) interpret the doctrines and rules in line with the requirements of contemporary China’s development and progress, core socialist values and excellent Chinese traditions and culture,” said Wang, according to a report by Asia One news agency on Saturday.
Over the years, the Vatican has sparred with Beijing over China’s unilateral appointment of bishops in a country that has about 12 million Catholics.
On Sunday, in Langfang, a city in Hebei province just south of Beijing, a post on social media platform X showed a cluster of police officers standing by a tall Christmas tree outside a church in a small county.
“So scary,” the post said.
In 2018, Langfang put a blanket ban on public displays for Christmas and the sale of items related to the holiday to “maintain social stability”.
Celebrating Christmas in China
Christmas in China is an interesting blend of traditional Chinese culture and Western influences. While it is not a public holiday and not widely celebrated as it is in the West, it has gained popularity in urban areas as a commercial and festive occasion. Let’s take a closer look at how Christmas is celebrated in China.
Despite the Western influence, Christmas in China retains some traditional Chinese elements. For example, apples are a popular gift during Christmas as the word for apple, “píngguǒ,” sounds similar to the word for Christmas Eve, “píng’ān yè.” Additionally, some Chinese families may gather for a special dinner on Christmas Eve, similar to the Chinese New Year’s Eve reunion dinner.
In China, Santa Claus, known as “Shèngdàn Lǎorén” in Mandarin, is a popular figure during the Christmas season, especially in shopping malls and entertainment venues. Children often take photos with Santa Claus, and his image is used in various Christmas decorations and advertisements.
Recently, some schools and communities in China have started to hold Christmas-themed activities and events. Students may participate in Christmas plays, concerts, and gift exchanges, fostering a greater understanding of Western traditions and culture.
Christmas in China is a unique and evolving cultural phenomenon, blending Western customs with traditional Chinese elements. While it may not hold the same religious significance as in Western countries, it has become an occasion for festive celebrations and commercial activities, reflecting the growing global influence on Chinese culture.