Christmas in China – How It Is Celebrated in China

Christmas has been steadily gaining popularity in China in recent years. In the biggest cities, it has been a big commercial success and a newly adopted festive tradition. However Christmas is not celebrated the same everywhere or by everyone in the vast ‘Middle Kingdom’…

How People in China Celebrate Christmas

Tourists

Tourists will find celebrations going on in most major destinations, and domestic transportation and hotel rooms costs are some of the best of the year due to low season in China. Many of the larger hotels and some Western restaurants offer Christmas dinner.

Expats

Expats (from countries and cultures who celebrate Christmas) decorate their homes and try to generate an atmosphere as much like at home as possible. Many feel particularly homesick at this time of year.

Purchasing the trappings of Christmas is becoming increasingly possible in China, especially in the big cities where big malls sell wrapping paper, cards, etc., and there are import stores for Christmas ingredients. Online shopping is increasingly the cheapest was to get e.g. a Christmas tree and decorations or even a turkey delivered to your door.

Expats hold Christmas parties in their homes and often in their schools if they are teachers. A Christmas dinner with family, or at least friends if family are far away, is seen as very important by most.

Chinese People in General

The commercial Christmas has become a major annual event in the major cities in China. On the streets and in department stores, there are Christmas trees, lights and decorations. You’ll hear Christmas music playing from the end of November. Christmas carols can be heard over the noise of the crowds shopping for the Christmas season sales and promotions. A Chinese “Father Christmas” (圣诞老人 Shèngdàn Lǎorén /shnng-dan laoww-rnn/) helps to make the scene complete.

You’ll see many of the same decorations up: Christmas wreaths, Merry Christmas banners, colorful lights, and the same sorts of ornaments. Most of these decorations bought in the West are made in China anyway!

For young people, it’s a chance to get together with friends and have Christmas parties. These might be held at a friend’s house, McDonald’s, karaoke café, restaurant, or bar. There is a festive atmosphere, and people enjoy the decorations and unusual music. Many younger people see it as a romantic holiday for couples to exchange gifts and date.

Most Chinese people who celebrate Christmas do so as a happy occasion for get-togethers of friends, relatives, and couples, without any religious attachment.

Chinese Christians

Christmas at Wangfujing Church
Wangfujing Church in Beijing

The Christians generally celebrate Christmas religiously, sometimes more so than in the West. While most Chinese people don’t realize that Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ or attach a religious significance to the festivities, many of China’s Christians celebrate Christmas as the top event of the year, outranking even Chinese New Year, preparing songs and activities weeks before.

Christians in China celebrate by going to special church services, which are typically packed to capacity. On Christmas Eve, there are choral performances, and the congregation puts on dance and drama performances. It is called ‘Peaceful Evening’ (Ping’an Ye 平安夜 from the translation of the carol “Silent Night”).

An unusual apple eating tradition has evolved in the country. The word apple (苹果 píngguǒ /ping-gwor/) sounds like the word “peace” in Mandarin, so people eat apples.

Carol singing in the streets is rarely seen, though it’s popular in Christian’s houses, where the karaoke machine, ever popular in China, may be employed.

Christmas Varies Greatly Across China!

In Mainland China

Christmas tree
A Christmas display in Guangzhou

Christmas is not a public holiday in China because China doesn’t have much Christian cultural influence, and most Chinese people are not Christian (only 1% officially).

In the Mainland, in recent years, Christmas has become more and more popular and is celebrated with interest in large cities where a large number of expats live and Western influence in greater. These cities are generally along or near China’s east coast. There are more Christians there (perhaps 5% in some areas).

However, in smaller cities and countryside areas in China’s interior, there are far fewer Christians, and the people have had less contact with foreigners, so Christmas is sometimes a foreign mystery, especially for the older generations.

The further west in China, the less Christmas is celebrated except for big cities such as Chengdu and Chongqing. In the far west where a lot of Muslims and more devout Buddhists live, such as in Xinjiang and Tibet, Christmas is celebrated least.

In Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan

It is a two day public holiday in Hong Kong and Macau, due to the British and Portuguese influence.

In Hong Kong, Christmas Day (December 25) and Boxing Day (December 26) are both official public holidays. Banks are closed on these days. Boxing Day is a British tradition. It is a day for shopping for after-holiday sales and for employers to give gifts to employees.

In Macau, Christmas Eve (December 24) and Christmas Day are official public holidays. Both days and December 26 as well are bank holidays.

In Taiwan, Christmas is generally celebrated more than in Mainland China but less than in HK and Macau. See below.

Christmas in Major Tourist Areas Around China

Hong Kong

Christmas, Hong Kong
Christmas carolers in a Hong Kong mall

Hong Kong is one of the best places in the world to go for a festive Christmas atmosphere, with its two-day public holiday. The American CNN television network named the Hong Kong Winter Fest as one of the Top 10 places to spend Christmas in the whole world. Hong Kong is known for fantastic Christmas displays, fine food, and Christmas shopping.

Beijing

Christmas in Beijing is celebrated with keen interest by some of Beijing’s younger generation. Usually it is celebrated as a happy occasion for social get-togethers and giving presents. However, most people work on Christmas day unless it happens to fall on a weekend. Christmas in Beijing is mainly commercial; it is a busy shopping season. Some of the major hotels have special Christmas dinners, and people can also be reminded of the original meaning of Christmas at churches in Beijing.

Shanghai

Shanghai is a center for world trade and a place where East meets West. In a modern, highly-developed city, smart shopkeepers don’t lose any opportunity to sell their products. Most shops in the downtown area decorate their shops to attract visitors in the holiday period. Christmas carols are heard everywhere.

Guangzhou

tianhecheng
Chinese-style Christmas decorations in a China mall

It sometimes seems that Christmas is more popular than Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) in Guangzhou, especially to the young people. There are three things they love to do: have Christmas parties, go shopping, and enjoy Christmas dinner. Why not go Christmas shopping in Guangzhou?

Guilin

We at China Highlights are based in Guilin, one of those smaller cities, where there are fewer Christians and Christmas is less celebrated. Famous for its karst landscape, Guilin draws many foreign and domestic tourists, but very few in the winter and at Christmas time.

Taiwan

Christmas is an unofficial holiday in Taiwan, but only because it coincides with Constitution Day, the anniversary of the signing of Taiwan’s constitution in 1947. While its 5% Christian population celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ in churches and homes across the island, the majority enjoy the decorations and displays in shops, and general commercialism.

How to Say “Merry Christmas” in Chinese

  • 圣诞快乐! Shèngdàn kuàilè! /shnng-dan kwhy-ler/ ‘Holy-birth happy!’

The Top Three Chinese Christmas Songs

Apart from (classic) English carols and pop songs the Chinese songs you are most likely to hear playing are the Chinese versions (to the same tunes) of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”, “Silent Night”, and “Jingle Bells”. Lyrics in characters and pinyin, and literal translations, are provided below.

Women Zhu Ni Shengdan Kuaile — ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’

我们祝你圣诞快乐 Wǒmen zhù nǐ shèngdàn kuàilè We wish you a merry Christmas
我们祝你圣诞快乐 wǒmen zhù nǐ shèngdàn kuàilè We wish you a merry Christmas
我们祝你圣诞快乐 wǒmen zhù nǐ shèngdàn kuàilè We wish you a merry Christmas
祝你新年快乐 Zhù nǐ xīnnián kuàilè Wishing you a happy New Year
把新讯带到 Bǎ xīn xùn dài dào Take the news
每一个角落 Měi yīgè jiǎoluò To every corner
把新年的新讯 Bǎ xīnnián de xīn xùn Take the New Year news
带给你们和我 Dài gěi nǐmen hé wǒ To you and me
Or…
把星星带到 Bǎ xīngxīng dài dào Take stars
每一个角落 Měi yīgè jiǎoluò To every corner
把新年的心绪 Bǎ xīnnián de xīn xù Take the New Year new mood
带给你们和我 Dài gěi nǐmen hé wǒ To you and me

 

Ping’an Ye — ‘Silent Night’

平安夜 圣善夜 Píng’ān yè shèngshàn yè Peaceful night holy night
万暗中 光华射 Wàn àn zhōng guānghuá shè In the darkness glory shone
照着圣母也 Zhàozhe shèngmǔ yě On the holy mother and
照着圣婴 zhàozhe shèng yīng on the holy child
多少慈祥也 Duōshǎo cíxiáng yě So much mercy and
多少天真 duōshǎo tiānzhēn so much heavenly truth
静享天赐安眠 Jìng xiǎng tiāncì ānmián Quietly enjoys heavenly rest
静享天赐安眠 Jìng xiǎng tiāncì ānmián Quietly enjoys heavenly rest
平安夜 圣善夜 Píng’ān yè shèngshàn yè Peaceful night holy night
牧羊人 在旷野 Mùyáng rén zài kuàngyě Shepherds in the wilderness
忽然看见了 Hūrán kànjiànle Suddenly saw
天上光华 tiānshàng guānghuá heavenly glory
听见天军唱 Tīngjiàn tiān jūn chàng Heard the heavenly host sing
哈利路亚 hālìlùyà “Hallelujah”
救主今夜降生 jiù zhǔ jīnyè jiàngshēng The Savior tonight is born
救主今夜降生 jiù zhǔ jīnyè jiàngshēng The Savior tonight is born
平安夜 圣善夜 Píng’ān yè shèngshàn yè Peaceful night holy night
神子爱 光皎洁 Shénzi ài guāng jiǎojié God’s Son love’s light shines
救赎宏恩的 Jiùshú hóng ēn di Redeeming grace’s
黎明来到 límíng lái dào dawn has come
圣容发出来 Shèng róng fà chūlái The holy face emanates
荣光普照 róngguāng pǔzhào glory shining
耶稣我主降生 Yēsū wǒ Zhǔ jiàngshēng Jesus my Lord is born
耶稣我主降生 Yēsū wǒ Zhǔ jiàngshēng Jesus my Lord is born

 

Dingding Dang — “Jingle Bells”

穿过大风雪 Chuānguo dà fēng xuě Through the wind and snow
我们坐在雪橇上 Wǒmen zuò zài xuěqiāo shàng We ride on a sleigh
飞奔过田野 Fēi bēnguò tiányě Flying over the fields
我们欢笑又歌唱 Wǒmen huānxiào yòu gēchàng We all laugh and sing
马儿铃声响 Mǎ’er língshēng xiǎng Horse’s bells ringing
令人心欢畅 Lìng rénxīn huānchàng Makes our hearts joyful
我们今夜滑雪 Wǒmen jīnyè huáxuě Tonight we’re sleighing
真快乐 Zhēn kuàilè so happily
把滑雪歌儿唱 Bǎ huáxuě gē’er chàng singing a sleighing song
叮叮当叮叮当 Dīngdīng dāng dīngdīng dāng Ding-a-ling ding-a-ling
铃儿响叮当 Líng’er xiǎng dīngdāng Bells ring ding-a-ling
我们今夜多快乐 Wǒmen jīnyè duō kuàilè Tonight we are so happy
坐在雪橇上 Zuò zài xuěqiāo shàng Riding on a sleigh
叮叮当叮叮 Dīngdīng dāng dīngdīng dāng Ding-a-ling ding-a-ling
当铃儿响叮当 Líng’er xiǎng dīngdāng Bells ring ding-ling
我们今夜多快乐 Wǒmen jīnyè duō kuàilè We tonight are so happy
坐在雪橇上 Zuò zài xuěqiāo shàng Riding on a sleigh