Do Chinese people celebrate Christmas? It is hard to say. After all, China has a population of 1.4 billion.
If counted only in terms of numbers, there must be more people in China who do not celebrate Christmas. But if you have ever traveled to China during the Christmas season, you will so many Christmas elements, and everyone seems to celebrate the festival.
As a holiday originated in the West, Christmas is more popular in China than Thanksgiving, Easter and Halloween.
Of course, Christians in any country celebrate Christmas, but the question is how ordinary people feel about Christmas in a country that is not widely influenced by Christianity.
In first-and second-tier cities, Chinese people do spend a holiday on Christmas Day, but it has very little relation to a typical Western-style Christmas.
Near Christmas every year, the commercial streets and major websites in China will be decorated with festive decorations, and the commercial facilities in the city will be permeated with a festive atmosphere.
On this day, young people will go shopping, dating, watching movies. Some may even go to church or hear hymns, yet most of these have nothing to do with religion.
This article will explain how and why non-Christians in China celebrate Christmas.
It’s just another shopping festival
According to Pew’s estimates, there were 67 million Christians in China in 2010. Although this figure may seem huge, it accounts for only 4.7% of China’s total population. The influence of Christianity itself is not enough to explain the popularity of Christmas in China.
In fact, the festivals that most young Chinese spend on December 24 and 25 have nothing to do with Christianity or any other religion. It is more like a shopping festival planned by commercial organizations, which people buy more goods in a festive atmosphere.
After Alibaba successfully transformed November 11 of each year from Singles Day into a Chinese version of “Black Friday,” Chinese e-commerce companies defined “double 12” as “Nian Huo Jie” (New year’s gift festival), to encourage people to buy goods for the coming Christmas, New year and Spring Festival.
Mainstream e-commerce platforms such as Taobao (Tmall), JD.com and SUNING have all joined the shopping festival in 2018. Taobao alone completed sales of 213.5 billion yuan(About 32.658 billion dollars) on December 12, 2018. According to the monitoring data of China’s State Post Bureau, postal and express delivery enterprises collected a total of 322 million pieces of mail(package) on December 12, 2018. Many of these packages became Christmas gifts for young people two weeks later.
Offline, most shopping malls in China’s first-and second-tier cities share the same agenda-setting with e-commerce sites.
Every year near November, shopping malls, parks, cinemas and other consumer places in China’s first-tier cities begin to prepare for Christmas. On the one hand, they will use decorations and posters related to Christmas. On the other hand, they offer special discounts for the festival.
On this day, Chinese western restaurants will also offer holiday packages or discounts. But Chinese consumers are not interested in traditional Christmas cuisine (such as Brussels sprouts, Christmas pudding, and even turkey), so these restaurants only offer daily Western food sets at a discount.
It is worth mentioning that although Christmas has not yet come this year, there has been a Christmas tree fire caused by a short circuit of colored lights in Shanghai. This seems to be enough to explain how many Christmas decorations there are on China’s shopping streets throughout the Christmas season.
Chinese consumers will generally choose western restaurants with Christmas decorations as dining places. Christmas has always been one of the most important marketing activities for Pizza Hut China, which combines its red corporate visual design with Christmas elements to become one of the favorite Christmas Eve restaurants for Chinese consumers.
In terms of discounts, the promotion period of offline shopping malls usually starts in November and end in January of the following year, with slight adjustments at different time points. But in recent years, due to the emergence of the double 11 and double 12 shopping festivals, the consumption peak of Christmas and New Year’s Day has been diluted.
In China, businesses use Christmas decorations with little religious meaning. Christmas decorations such as Santa Claus, Christmas trees, Christmas balls and large fake snowflakes are hung on the streets just because they are beautiful, and more often used in shopping malls to stimulate consumption).
Christmas decorations are used almost from November to January, and merchants don’t change their holiday decorations until the Chinese Spring Festival. Buddhists, Muslims and followers of other religions in China will not even be bothered by this.
A social festival for young people
In the past, both Chinese and foreign mainstream media interpreted that young people prefer Christmas to mean that Christianity and the Western way of life are more appealing to Chinese young people. Some voices in China take this opportunity to criticize Chinese young people for fawning on foreigners and forgetting their ancestors.
But in fact, the original desire of Chinese young people to celebrate Christmas has nothing to do with Christian culture itself. Just because all traditional Chinese festivals require family reunion, young people have to find or create a new holiday to spend with friends who are not family members.
Most Chinese young people who celebrate Christmas choose not to have dinner with their families on this day. They meet their friends of the same age to go shopping, and then choose a western restaurant for dinner. After that, they may choose to go to a bar or a hotel to relax.
Since Christmas is not a public holiday in China, whether the festive atmosphere on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day is high depends on whether Christmas is a rest day in that year. If Christmas falls on weekends, young people may not go home at night.
A schedule that comes as a surprise to Westerners is that young couples in China will go to church on Christmas Day. For them, enjoying the choir’s hymn performance is a very romantic thing, even though they may never know what the lyrics of those hymns are.
The most important difference with foreign countries is that since Christmas is not a public holiday here, no commercial facilities will be closed on this day. The shopping streets in western countries are empty on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but the shopping streets in China are full these two days. The streets are full of dating couples, or young student gangs.
So, in fact, for some people, Christmas is just another Valentine’s Day. This seems to have a completely different meaning from a typical Western Christmas. It is worth mentioning that in Japan, Christmas also seems to be a substitute for Valentine’s Day.
There is no doubt that this will give young people a better understanding of the Western way of life, but it does not mean that they will fall into a frenzy for Western culture. It’s like more and more Americans will taste traditional Chinese food during the Spring Festival, which doesn’t mean they will give up hamburgers and steaks in their daily life.
Similarly, although you can see a lot of Christmas decorations in China’s first-tier cities, you rarely see Christmas decorations in Chinese families, unless it is a real Christian family.
In the past few years, some local governments in China have tried to reduce the presence of the Christmas season in city life. After all, Christmas still has a strong religious attribute in western countries, and many people of different faiths do not like Christmas. As a country that adheres to atheism, China has always been nervous about religious festivals.
This kind of action is also supported by older Chinese, especially the parents of young people. But their reasons are different from those of the government: they are not actually opposed to their children’s Christmas for religious reasons, but just don’t want them to go out and fool around on that day.
But the attempt by local governments has not been successful because most young Chinese who celebrate Christmas in China never understand the religious story behind Christmas.
If you shoot the air, you will not hit any target.
In fact, with the improvement of the consumption level of Chinese young people, even Thanksgiving, which originated entirely from modern North American culture, has become more popular in China in recent years.
The reason is simple: every extra holiday, more goods can be sold as holiday gifts, young people have one more reason to go to the bar.
Who cares about the cultural significance behind it?
The cover picture of this article is a Christmas decorated night view of a random Shanghai shopping street, via this Weibo.