Christmas is not an official holiday in China, so most offices, schools, and shops remain open. Nonetheless, many people still get in the holiday spirit during Christmastime in China, and all the trappings of a Western Christmas can be found in China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan.
Department stores are decorated with Christmas trees, twinkling lights, and festive decorations starting in late November.
Malls, banks, and restaurants often have Christmas displays, Christmas trees, and lights. Large shopping malls help usher in Christmas in China with tree lighting ceremonies. Store clerks often wear Santa hats and green and red accessories. It’s not uncommon to see leftover Christmas decorations still decking the halls well into February, or to hear Christmas music at cafes in July.
For spectacular holiday light displays and fake snow, head to the Western theme parks in Hong Kong, such as Hong Kong Disneyland and Ocean Park. The Hong Kong Tourism Board also sponsors WinterFest, an annual Christmas wonderland.
At home, families opt to have a small Christmas tree. Also, few homes have Christmas lights strung outside or candles in the windows.
IS THERE A SANTA CLAUS?
It’s not uncommon to see a Santa Claus at malls and hotels across Asia. Children often have their picture taken with Santa and some department stores coordinate a home visit from a gift-bearing Santa.
While Chinese children do not leave out cookies and milk for Santa or write a note requesting gifts, many children enjoy such a visit with Santa.
In China and Taiwan, Santa is called 聖誕老人 (shèngdànlǎorén). Instead of elves, he is often accompanied by his sisters, young women dressed as elfs or in red and white skirts.
Ice skating is available year-round at indoor rinks throughout Asia, but special places to ice skate during Christmas in China are Weiming Lake at Peking University in Beijing and Houkou Swimming Pool Leisure Rink, which is a massive swimming pool in Shanghai that is converted into an ice rink in the winter. Snowboarding is also available in Nanshan, outside of Beijing.
A variety of performances, including touring productions of The Nutcracker, are often staged in major cities during the Christmas season in China. Check English-language magazines like City Weekend, Time Out Beijing, and Time Out Shanghai for shows in Beijing and Shanghai. That’s Beijing and That’s Shanghai are also good resources for shows.
The International Festival Chorus holds annual performances in Beijing and Shanghai. Additionally, Beijing Playhouse, an English language community theater, and East West Theater in Shanghai stage Christmas shows.
A variety of touring shows are staged in Hong Kong and Macau. Check Time Out Hong Kong for details. In Taiwan, consult English language newspapers like the Taipei Times for details on performances and shows during Christmas time.
Shopping sprees in the weeks leading up to Christmas are popular in China. A growing number of Chinese celebrate on Christmas Eve by eating Christmas dinners with friends. Traditional Christmas dinners are readily available at hotel restaurants and Western restaurants. Supermarket chains catering to foreigners like Jenny Lou’s and Carrefour in China, and City’Super in Hong Kong and Taiwan, sell all the trimmings needed for a home-cooked Christmas feast.
An East-meets-West Christmas dinner can also be had during Christmas in China. 八宝鸭 (bā bǎo yā, eight treasures duck) is the Chinese version of a stuffed turkey. It is a whole duck stuffed with diced chicken, smoked ham, peeled shrimp, fresh chestnuts, bamboo shoots, dried scallops and mushrooms stir-fried with slightly undercooked rice, soy sauce, ginger, spring onions, white sugar, and rice wine.
HOW IS CHRISTMAS IN CHINA CELEBRATED?
Similar to the West, Christmas is celebrated by giving gifts to family and loved ones. Gift hampers, which include edible Christmas treats, are on sale at many hotels and specialty stores during Christmas time. Christmas cards, gift wrap, and decorations are easily found at large markets, hypermarkets, and small shops. Exchanging Christmas cards with close friends and family is becoming more popular as is exchanging small, inexpensive gifts.
While most Chinese opt to overlook Christmas’s religious roots, a sizable minority do head to church for services in a variety of languages, including Chinese, English, and French. There were some 16 million Chinese Christians in China in 2005, according to the Chinese government. Christmas services are held at an array of state-run churches in China and at houses of worship throughout Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan.
While government offices, restaurants, and shops are open on Christmas day, international schools and some embassies and consulates are closed on Dec. 25 in China. Christmas Day (Dec. 25) and Boxing Day (Dec. 26) are public holidays in Hong Kong in which government offices and businesses are closed. Macau recognizes Christmas as a holiday and most businesses are closed. In Taiwan, Christmas coincides with Constitution Day (行憲紀念日). Taiwan used to observe Dec. 25 as a day off, but currently Dec. 25 is a regular working day in Taiwan.