Written by Tanya Pittman and updated by Dalissa McEwen, 12/19/2020
Christmas may not be a recognized official holiday in China; however, popular culture and companies like Disney have made it grow in popularity within the country, especially in larger cities. Many department stores create decorative images with Christmas trees, lights, music, and other holiday decorations, and these holiday happenings can be experienced in cities such as Beijing or Guangzhou.1 Imagine the decorated store markets with Christmas trees and lights as Christmas tunes carry in the air in a place like Shanghai.
Christmas in China: Activities
There are several indoor and outdoor activities that can be enjoyed during Christmas in China. The activities range from viewing festive light displays or attending the Arts to enjoying ice skating and snowboarding. In large urban areas, children and families may attend a performance of “The Nutcracker” or a holiday-themed play. Choral presentations are also a fun option to celebrate the wonders of this gift-giving holiday.2 Children can also visit with Santa and enjoy Christmas music in department stores.
“In China and Taiwan, Santa is called 聖誕老人 (shèngdànlǎorén) [old Christmas man]. Instead of elves, he is often accompanied by his sisters, young women dressed as elves in red and white skirts.”
The young at heart may enjoy outings such as dinner parties, gift exchanges, or time with friends. “Some young people want to build relationships outside of their families.”3 In China, younger generations host parties to spend time with the special people in their lives like loved ones and close friends. Some couples enjoy Christmas as a special night on the town. It is during these festive gatherings that gifts are exchanged.
Christmas in China: Food
Both expats and Chinese citizens delight in the many wonderful food choices available this time year. One dish that is popular during Christmas is Eight Treasures Duck (八宝鸭, bā bǎo yā).4 Perhaps not a traditional Christmas dish, Eight Treasures Duck can be savored as the Chinese version of a stuffed turkey. It is stuffed with delectable fillings such as peeled shrimp, ginger, and bamboo shoots. For those desiring an authentic Western holiday meal, many hotels and Western-style restaurants feature the traditional turkey and fixings this time of year.
Gift hampers are another cool food option this holiday that can be shared as gifts or kept for one’s self. They contain edible Christmas treats such as fruit, tea, and biscuits, and they may be purchased at supermarkets or stores.5
Christmas Eve in China
Christmas Eve is also very popular in the larger cities. In anticipation of Christmas in China, Christmas Eve dinners can be a time of reconnecting with friends and coworkers.6 In fact, one activity that’s growing into a Chinese Christmas Eve tradition is giving apples as gifts.7 These delightful treats may be purchased from supermarkets or stores, and sometimes they have messages such as love and peace inscribed on them. According to China Highlights, “People give apples on Christmas Eve because in Chinese Christmas Eve is called “Ping’ an Ye” (平安夜), meaning peaceful or quiet evening, which has been translated from the carol ‘Silent Night.’ The word for apple in Mandarin is “píngguǒ” (苹果) which sounds like the word for peace.”8
Celebrating Christmas in China is unlike any other experience! Whether it is karaoke singing with friends, a date night with your special someone, receiving an apple on Christmas Eve, or enjoying Christmas in Guangzhou, it will be a holiday to remember!
Christmas and Teaching English to Chinese Students
With the increase in popularity of Christmas in China, you may find that some of your ESL students are familiar with some of the western traditions like having a Christmas tree or gift-giving. Some of your students may even have Christmas trees in their home, though this will still be rare in most cases. Show your students some Christmas-related props like stockings and candy canes and quiz them on their knowledge. One fun way to reward students when they do well in class is to offer them a virtual candy cane. I’ve done this with candy both at Halloween and Christmas with great success with my younger students. Occasionally, my students will even enter the online classroom wearing a Santa hat or they’ll turn their cameras around to show me their Christmas tree. Being able to connect with your students on a personal level helps to build rapport. Make sure to include asking them about their favorite holidays and traditions to make the class a full cultural exchange
1,7 “Christmas in China on WhyChristmas?Com.” Christmas Around the World — whychristmas?com. James Cooper. Accessed December 14, 2019. https://www.whychristmas.com/cultures/china.shtml.
2, 4, 5, 6 Mack, Lauren. “Is Christmas Celebrated in China?” ThoughtCo. ThoughtCo, August 16, 2019. https://www.thoughtco.com/how-christmas-is-celebrated-in-china-687498.
3 Tsoi, Grace. “Does China Celebrate Christmas? A Long (and Better) Answer.” Inkstone. Inkstone, December 18, 2018. https://www.inkstonenews.com/china-translated/china-translated-does-china-celebrate-christmas/article/2178318.
8 Van Hinsbergh, Gavin. “Christmas in China 2019 (How It’s Celebrated, Christmas Traditions).” China Highlights, January 9, 2019. https://www.chinahighlights.com/festivals/christmas.htm.
Photos for Christmas in China:
Christmas Market in Beijing: Photo courtesy of © Calvin86 | Dreamstime.com
Christmas Eve Apple: Photo courtesy of © Iadamson | Dreamstime.com
Hi there! My name is Tanya Pittman. I live in the great bluff city of Memphis, Tennessee. It is located in the southeastern part of United States. I have been an elementary school teacher for 25+ years. I have taught grades two through five. I have been an online ESL teacher for 16 months. I have a Masters of Education and a Masters of Curriculum and Instruction with an Emphasis in Literacy Studies. I love teaching reading, it is like giving a child a lifelong gift. I enjoy reading, sewing, traveling, and spending time with my family.