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Christmas in China—When East Meets West

Merry Christmas everybody! 圣诞快乐/shèng dàn kuài lè/! Thank you for your interest in learning Chinese and your support in 2014. I will do my very best to introduce you to more interesting things about China and more useful Chinese learning techniques in the coming year.

The US now is filled with a festive atmosphere. Do you wonder how Chinese people, on the other side of the globe, spend Christmas day? Do they celebrate this religious and cultural western holiday?

The answer is yes and no. The majority of Chinese are not Christian, thus they have no tradition to celebrate Christmas. Christmas in China is not an official holiday either, so most offices, schools and shops remain open. Chinese New Year, which will come on February 19th, 2015, is the Chinese version of Christmas in China; popular customs include the family coming together, gift-giving, display of decorations, and special meals. But more and more Chinese get in the holiday spirit at Christmas nowadays, especially the younger generation. Like many other thing imported by China, Christmas is adopted and mixed with the local culture and transformed into something new, something Chinese style.

In today's article, we will look at 4 Chinese Christmas concepts where you can see a joyful union of the eastern and the western cultures.

  圣诞节/shèng dàn jié /: Christmas itself. Different from a religious and cultural holiday in the west, Christmas in China is a lighthearted social event with drinking, food, parties and friends. It is also a merry time to shop and a romantic day for young couples. Typical ways to celebrate include seeing a movie, eating out in fancy restaurants, going to a karaoke bar, or shopping. Ice skating and amusement parks are popular destinations too. For most people it is also a chance to enjoy public displays of Christmas trees, twinkling lights and festive decorations. Chinese people also borrowed Valentine's Day, Halloween and Thanksgiving and redid them into Chinese holidays. The rising middle class needs more outlets to spend, to socialize and to enjoy life.

苹果/píng guǒ /: Apple. The apple is a common gift on Christmas because its pronunciation /píng guŏ/ is similar to the word "平安夜” / píng ’ān yè/ (Christmas Eve). Hence the apple has taken on the symbolism of good luck and a happy future. Apples cellophane-wrapped and printed with holiday messages, such as “Merry Christmas”, can cost five times more than the regular apple!  


八宝鸭/bā bǎo yā /: Eight treasure ducks. It is the Chinese version of turkey or goose served on western Christmas meals. A traditional Chinese festive dish with Shanghainese origins, it is first marinated, fried, stuffed with 8 different ingredients. The ingredients are diced chicken, smoked ham, peeled shrimp, fresh chestnuts, bamboo shoots, dried scallops, mushrooms stir-fried with slightly undercooked rice, soy sauce, ginger, spring onions, white sugar, and rice wine. Then everything is steamed or braised till soft and falling off the bone. Absolutely DELICIOUS! 


圣诞老人/shèng dàn lǎo rén /: Father Christmas or Santa Claus, synonymous in China. Most people recognize Christmas as a holiday associated with this portly, joyous, white-bearded man, wearing a red coat and red trousers (and his “sisters”--young women dressed in red too). Because 2015 on the Chinese calendar is the sheep year, some shops are putting Santa hats on sheep. Christmas is hardly a religious holiday in China; Chinese people usually use non-religious elements which in their mind represent the western world. That explains why Santa Claus is often shown playing the saxophone, trumpet or French horn, in very “Bill Clinton-style”.  


Since opening its door to the world again in the 1970s, China has been learning from other countries and cultures like a sponge: technology, art, fashion, business practices, and in this case holidays. But rather than keeping them their original way, Chinese people fascinatingly localized these external entries and preserved the Chinese core values: down-to-earth, hard-working, and being family and prosperity-oriented.

No matter you are from the east or the west, Christmas is a merry time for everyone. Happy holidays! 下次再见啦!Ho, Ho, Ho.









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