The History and Modern Practice of Christmas in China

Christmas has arrived in China and we're ready to celebrate! Despite not being as popular as traditional Chinese holidays like Mid-Autumn Festival and Spring Festival, the storied date of December 25th has come to take on its own special role on the Chinese calendar.

Over the past several decades more and more Chinese have come to observe Christmas; this is particularly true among younger Chinese generations eager to get a taste of Western culture. Thus, Christmas has received a warm welcome in the Middle Kingdom.

During the days and weeks leading up to Christmas, it’s very common for Chinese students of all ages to exchange Christmas cards, wear costumes and get into the holiday spirit. As a unique Christmas Eve tradition, many young couples present each other with red apples, a custom born out of the Mandarin word for Christmas Eve, which sounds similar to the word for apple.

Friends and family members might also take advantage of holiday sales and give each other small gifts, some even purchasing faux Christmas trees to adorn their living rooms. If you find yourself in China during Christmas time, keep your eyes peeled for restaurants offering 八宝鸭 (bā bǎo yā, eight treasures duck), duck stuffed with chicken, ham, shrimp and more — a Chinese-style Christmas dinner!

Chinese people dressed as Santa playing Chinese drums

Chinese people dressed for Christmas

(China Photos | Getty Images | Washington Post)

Here’s what else to expect if you’re in China during the Christmas season:

  • Servers, salesclerks, and other attendants may be wearing holiday-themed costumes
  • Malls, restaurants, and public places will be playing those oh-so-familiar Christmas tunes
  • Shops of all kinds may be holding special sales, selling winter clothes and seasonal products at massive discount prices
  • Public squares and walking streets may be decorated with twinkling lights, red streamers, or even decorated Christmas trees
  • Some international restaurants, schools or offices may be closed in observance of Christmas

Christmas in Guilin at CLI

Useful Vocabulary for Christmas in China:

平安夜Píng'ān YèChristmas eve
白色圣诞báisè ShèngdànWhite Christmas
圣诞快乐Shèngdàn kuàilèMerry Christmas
圣诞树ShèngdànshùChristmas tree
拐杖糖guǎizhàngtángcandy cane
姜饼屋jiāngbǐngwūgingerbread house
圣诞卡ShèngdànkǎChristmas card
圣诞老人Shèngdàn LǎorénSanta Claus
姜饼人jiāngbǐngréngingerbread man

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