China · Taiwan

Contradictory Chinese Christmas

Since I’ve been in Asia, I’ve worked on every Christmas Day in the past few years and this year was no different. It’s not a big deal since I’ve gotten used to it, having been in East Asia for six years and counting. Also, since I stopped going to church regularly many years ago and being a true Christian, the day hasn’t meant much to me, though I do enjoy the Christmas parties or lunches with Western colleagues. This year, the company had a small party on Christmas Eve and it was a bit festive with champagne and giant pizza and an appearance by the big boss Hu X himself. Our local colleagues seemed to enjoy it a great deal, and I can’t not mention the great prize draws for Walmart and Starbucks coupons (sarcasm).

As most people know, the holiday has become very commercialized and too oriented on Santa and shopping in the West, yet China is no different. In Taiwan, Christmas is not a holiday, but there are shopping promotions and fast food chain staff, bus drivers and even bank tellers (at a branch near me, seriously) wear Santa hats in the days leading up to the 25th. In China, it’s taken a bit further in that local people seem to get into it a lot, even treating it like a holiday. Christmas Eve is actually the more special day, which I got a clue about when I got celebratory messages on my phone from a few Chinese friends on that day.
In Beijing, hotels, malls and restaurants have capitalized on Christmas, which is not surprising given any opportunity to generate profit is very welcome to Chinese businesses.
However, for some Chinese, Christmas goes beyond the superficial as official churches hold Christmas Eve masses and attract many Chinese, even non-Christians. One could say that Christmas has become big in China, as this writer describes.
However, this being the mainland, things are always murky.
Elsewhere in Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province, authorities cracked down on Christmas, banning it from being celebrated in schools. Even worse, they also went on a campaign of toppling crosses from hundreds of churches, preventing them from having a cross on the buildings. Wenzhou, a city famous for its entrepreneurs, has a lot of Christians and 2,000 churches (there is a correlation between Wenzhou businessmen and Christianity) and even has the nickname “Jerusalem of China.”

In a year filled with crackdowns, it doesn’t seem like such a surprise or big deal, but it is another sign that authorities consider any non-state body a threat and something to limit, whether it be writers, artists, the media, or churches. However, it is surprising that there are such contradictory attitudes with Beijing being quite casual about Christmas, while Wenzhou went overboard on it.

This was Beijing on Christmas Day, all blue and chilly, with people ice skating on a frozen river nearby.
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8 thoughts on “Contradictory Chinese Christmas

  1. We’ve noticed the same trend re: Christmas here in Vietnam. To me, it feels comparable to our celebrations of Cinco de Mayo or St. Patrick’s Day in the US in that we completely miss the original point but enjoy it immensely nonetheless.

    As always, thanks for your multi-faceted portrayal with the articles re: Wenzhou. I usually pick one of your linked articles and this time I enjoyed the business article.

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    1. That’s an interesting comparison; it is quite similar to how those holidays are celebrated in the US.

      You’re welcome; I’m glad you like the articles I link to. The situation in Wenzhou is an interesting dynamic with the popularity of Christianity among such a commercial-oriented people.

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  2. Can you believe that I lived in Beijing for three years and I never ice skated? I should have tried it…

    I also had to work in Christmas! But it is ok, It didn’t feel like Christmas anyway…

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    1. That’s ok, ha; I’ve been here for over a year and studied in Canada before but I’ve never ice skated at all. I didn’t realize you’d been in Beijing for so long; did you like it?

      Yeah, I see we both feel the same about working on Christmas.

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      1. I absolutely loved it! I was one of those “I love Beijing, I hate Shanghai” persons. But I was always a student there, and when you are a student any place is awesome haha.

        Now I also like Shanghai, but I still think Beijing is cooler. Specially in the alternative bars/ underground music scene sense.

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        1. Ok, cool. Indeed, as a student, any place seems awesome.
          To be honest, I’m not so fond of some aspects of Beijing (and I’ve only been here for over a year) but then I haven’t lived in Shanghai yet so I can’t make a true comparison. I can see how Beijing might have the edge in alternative and underground music and art, though I wonder if Shanghai has a more sophisticated art/music scene.

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            1. Haha, yes, I’ve heard this from a few others as well. Though I think there’s a lot of materialism in Beijing too, perhaps less so from the expats. More expensive – didn’t know that. That’s too bad; I’d be interested in working there but it seems there are so many drawbacks.

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