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Christmas in China

Merry Christmas! A few days ago I was interviewed on a Dutch radio station about how people celebrate Christmas in China. When the producer of the program called me before the show, she seemed surprised that Christmas is not a regular holiday in China.

Basically, most Chinese do not celebrate Christmas. People do not get days off from work, and most people probably don’t even know it is Christmas. Only in the big cities you see Christmas decorations in stores and restaurants, but in Chinese houses you won’t see Christmas trees. We actually had a hard time buying a good tree this year, mainly because only foreigners in China buy trees. In Beijing a few years ago it was a lot easier, maybe because there are woods closer to the city?

In most Western countries Christmas is a family affair, with big meals with the whole family and spending time together. In China the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) has this function. In cities like Shanghai most Western bars and restaurants organize Christmas dinners and Christmas parties, and quite a lot of young Chinese participate. But probably more because they just like a good party than because it is Christmas. So it’s more a commercial affair than a religious or family event.

Last year when I was in Shanghai during Christmas, I did not like it at all, and it was one of the reasons why I decided to travel to Europe this year. Working on Christmas day just doesn’t feel right. At least not working in the office, I am sure I will check my email tomorrow from my parents home. The weather in Shanghai also does not help of course, I don’t think there has ever been a white Christmas there. Beijing is better in that respect, during Christmas 2002 I remember we had huge snowstorms. I had just started my first business at that time, and had to travel to the middle of nowhere in Hebei province on Christmas day over roads that were completely covered in ice!

But this year Holland won’t have a white Christmas either. More likely a grey Christmas, with temperatures above zero both during daytime and at night. But I’ll enjoy it anyway: It is dark outside already, and I am now sitting with my laptop in front of my parents fireplace, Christmas music in the background and drinking an excellent glass of wine. Life could be worse!

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  1. I experienced Christmas evening in Xian; the center of the city was crowded! I guess they do want to celebrate Christmas but do not really have an idea how though; everybody was just walking around the streets, lighting fireworks of course and in bars there was a count-down at twelve o’clock as if it were New-Year!

  2. It’s correct, Christmas in Shanghai is tiresome. Though I received a lot of “merry christmas” wishes from Chinese friends, I doubt if they realize the meaning of it. Anyway , I survived.