Greetings: “Shèngdàn Kuàilè” for Merry Christmas!
China is the undisputed heavy weight champion of Christmas decoration and product exporting, but according to The World Factbook only 3-4% of China’s 1.3 billion population is Christian. It is difficult to imagine a modern day Christmas in the west without the accoutrements bearing the mark “Made in China.” Christmas is not a religious holiday in China but has become the biggest, most extravagant and commercial holiday season in the country.
In December, Christmas decorations can be found all over in China, with large trees erected in shopping plazas, hotels and in other public places. Santa and his reindeer, snowmen, decorated shop windows, tinsel and reminders of Christmas can be found everywhere in the city. Clerks and staff greet customers in Santa hats and business owners are happy about the boosts in sales from the holiday.
Many Chinese Christians buy Christmas trees, sometimes referred to as the “tree of light,” but observances are more subdued than in the West. Chinese homes are decorated with evergreens and the “tree of light” with ornaments representative of Chinese culture, such as colorful paper chains, flowers, lanterns and the mythical phoenix, emperor of all birds. In large cities, workers receive the day off, but in remote villages in the countryside, often the Christmas holiday is not celebrated and in some cases not known about.
Many of China’s youth love the holiday even if they aren’t Christians. For them, Christmas is a time to spend time with friends, give gifts, go to parties and get shopping discounts. According to China Daily, the Christmas season has the visual and outside excitement traditional Chinese holiday’s to lack for young people who like glitz, glitter, excitement and something new.
Chinese traditionalist and a good number of academics and students deplore the inroads made by western holidays into the calmer, more family oriented rituals of many Chinese holidays like Mid-Autumn Festival and Spring Festival.
Chinese who embrace the Christmas holiday crowd into church services on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day to get the feeling of the more authentic Christmas culture and Christian holiday.
According to the State Administration for Religious Affairs, there are approximately $14 million Christians in China, 4 million Catholics and 10 million Protestants, all attending officially sanctioned churches. Popular Christmas carols have been translated into Chinese, bringing meaning to the songs of the season. For those who celebrate, Christmas services and Midnight Mass are a huge deal with some churches handing out tickets to attend. When space is no longer available, those who can’t enter the service watch from large monitors, sometimes in freezing weather.
Now that Christmas gift-giving is widespread in the country, Santa is everywhere; in malls, hotels, on the street and much like in the west, posing for pictures with and giving gifts to children. In China he is called Sun Ten Lao Ren (Santa Claus) and he is there to spread warm wishes and good cheer. A city magazine even chooses Beijing’s Santa of the Year.
Cultural choices such as Christmas concerts and parties, some themed, attract sold-out crowds. In 2008, the city of Harbin in the Heilongjiang province on the edge of Siberia, built what organizers called the world’s largest Santa ice sculpture.
China’s Christmas Exports
China continues to be the number one exporter of thousands of Christmas items worldwide. The majority of the world’s fabricated Christmas trees and decorations are made in Southern China. Ornaments, lights, gift-ware, Santas and other Christmas decorations were turned out at a relentless pace until the 2008 economic slowdown.
Unless your family purchased a natural tree in the US, there is a 70 or higher percentage chance your tree was manufactured in the Guangdong province of Southern China where more than 300 enterprises produced Christmas trees until recently. Many manufacturers in the province have been hit hard by the 2008 global economic crisis and are fighting for survival or have given in to insolvency.
2008 China Holiday Season Facts
1. $593.8 million– The value of US imports of Christmas tree ornaments from China between January and August 2008. China was the leading country of origin for such items. Similarly, China was the leading foreign source of artificial Christmas trees shipped to the US (66.2 million worth) during the same period.
2. $4.9 billion – The value of US toy imports including stuffed toys (excluding dolls), puzzles and electric trains from China between January and August 2008. China was the leading country of origin for stuffed toys coming into the US, as well as for a number of other popular holiday gifts. These include roller skates ($42 million), sports footwear ($136 million), golf equipment ($638 million) and basketballs ($31 million). China leads Indonesia as the leading supplier of ice skates ($42 million versus $10 million), with Thailand ranking third ($9 million).
Christmas dinner is very important for those who celebrate the holiday. It is seen as a time to spend quality time with family. Many Chinese go out to dinner and some simply order take-out turkey pizza.
Since this is not a religious holiday for much of the country, western Christmas traditions are much like those you would find in many countries. Dishes from around the world can be enjoyed. The traditional Christmas meal will center around turkey, roasts, rolls and sides of various vegetables.
If it’s sweets you’re craving you can find Christmas cookies, candies and other traditional snacks from all over the world in supermarkets, bakeries and department stores.
Traditions, A Guidebook, Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago