Although most Chinese people do not celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday, in the shopping malls Christmas decorations can be seen starting in early December. From Valentine’s Day to Christmas, as well as Halloween, which has been growing in popularity, more and more western holidays are on Chinese people’s radars. However, the way the Chinese celebrate Christmas and other foreign holidays may be vastly different, or even surprising to westerners. Through social listening, we can see the significance of Christmas in China and how it it celebrated.
Many holidays in China are turned into entertainment and commercial festivals, one of these is Christmas in China. But many foreign holidays, often being rooted in religion, meet friction in China. Chinese authorities are putting a stop to religious activities in public schools and national companies, whether or not people should celebrate western holidays has become a heated debate on Chinese social media.
How do Chinese celebrate Christmas?
Source: Baidu Index. Baidu searches for “Christmas Events”
According to Baidu Index, Christmas in China has passed its peak in popularity. From 2012 to 2015, the overall trend of the keyword “Christmas events” had shown steady growth, but since 2016 it seems that the hot Christmas had suddenly become less popular. During this time, there was an increase in boycotts of western holidays, hence large celebration events were under control.
Christmas in China is a time for fun
However, restrictions have not stopped Chinese Gen Z and millennials from finding their own way to celebrate Christmas. For them, Christmas, like other western holidays is for enjoy themselves rather than gathering as family. Particularly for young Chinese couples, inspired by Hollywood Christmas movies, they often treat it as a romantic day of going on a date and exchanging gifts.
Shopping and traveling
The young Chinese generation spends their Christmas day on entertainment activities, such as karaoke bars, restaurants, and shopping. According to a report from Didi, a Chinese ride-hailing company, in Shanghai, 25.67% of users went to shopping centers, and 18.23% went to bars and nightclubs on 2014’s Christmas Eve. Nearly 50% of users went straight to mid and high-end entertainment places after work.
On the other hand, long-distance travel is also popular across the country. A report from Mafengwo showed that “Christmas Disney” was the top destination in keyword searching. With the Christmas fairy-tale scenes and atmospheres, Disney has become one of the most romantic places for visitors on Christmas Eve. “Hyde Park Christmas” and “Nordic Snow Towns” were on the chart as well. More and more young Chinese are traveling to experience the Christmas culture in the western countries.
Source: Mafengwo. The top 10 destination keyword during the Christmas period
The one thing is common globally is the way Christmas is commercialized. Christmas décor such as Santa stickers, reefs and bells decorate many Chinese department stores.
Online and offline Christmas sales attract shoppers during the whole of December. In addition, many beauty brands take this opportunity to launch limited Christmas gift boxes to lure young couples. According to Pinduoduo, the popularity of Christmas sweaters, deer antler hair pieces, and scarves rise during Christmas, and most orders are from young consumers.
Source: Zhihu auto-complete. Frequently asked questions about Christmas in China are all related to gift giving for romantic partners
A fully Chinese Christmas tradition: apple exchange
An interesting tradition that uniquely evolved for Christmas in China is the “Apple Exchange”. The word ”Apple”（苹果，ping‘guo）sounds like the word “peace” in Mandarin, which is the same pronunciation in Christmas Eve, which translates to ‘Peaceful night’ (平安夜, ping’an‘ye), so people exchange apples for to wish love and peace.
Source: Xiaohongshu and Taobao. A fancy wrapped Christmas apple and Christmas limitation gifts.
Why foreign holidays are considered controversial in China
There has been more and more online debates and restrictions on religious gatherings. However, many youngsters don’t see Christmas in China as having anything to do with religion, but rather a day to have fun with friends and partners.
While talking about why the young generations would love to celebrate Christmas and other western holidays, on Zhihu, a netizen answered that traditional Chinese holidays focus on the family reunion, while western holidays give them a chance to enjoy themselves with friends.
Source: Zhihu. Why do you feel that the western holidays are getting stronger and stronger while the Chinese holidays are getting lighter and lighter?
However, because Christmas is originally a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ and any religious activities are tightly regulated by the government, some critics believe that celebrating Christmas should be forbidden. Some young Chinese netizens do not agree with this option. They believe Christmas has nothing to do with religious belief.
Source: Weibo. A netizen said she celebrated Christmas just for the joy.
The conflict between foreign cultural influence and Chinese cultural confidence
In addition to religious issues, many people reject Christmas because of the conflict between foreign cultural influence and Chinese cultural confidence. Recently, a Chinese college student who threatened to report his dormitory supervisor for “celebrating Thanksgiving Day” led to a huge debate on Chinese social media. Some students supported him, saying “Thanksgiving is controversial and it reminds people of a dark history for native Americans.”
Source: Weibo. A critic with 3 million followers commented about the influence of western holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas in China
Although the government does not promote the celebration of Christmas officially because of religious issues, youngsters love to celebrate Christmas in China to enjoy the festive atmosphere. Most people still consider western holidays and embrace the traditional holidays at the same time.
Cover image sources: DisneyParks Blog, Nipic, Unsplash