Christmas Stocking with Ornament

Christmas in China, Holidays Around the World

by Angela Efros on December 21, 2013

Girl decorating a Christmas Tree

Photo by Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I sent out several emails to different American businesses in regard to a project I’ve been researching and waited for a few days with no response. At first, I was offended that I was being ignored by so many strangers, all at the same time.  Then all of the sudden this small voice in the back of my head whispered, “Merry Christmas.”  Holidays around the world are very different than you might expect.

That’s when I realized, of course no one would respond to my emails. It’s the week of Christmas! Now lest you think I’m some kind of Scrooge work-a-holic who does not celebrate Christmas, let me explain: I celebrate Christmas in China.

Of course, I knew that it was Christmas time, but the realization that it was Christmas in China was so small in comparison to the obviousness of Christmas back home that I would almost compare it to the buzz of a fluorescent light. You know it’s there, you just don’t think about it.

Though Christmas has no place in ancient Chinese culture, it has still become a recognizable celebration, of sorts, in modern China. Businesses all over China take advantage of this time of year to have special promotions and discounts. Foreign companies, or companies with cool owners, play Christmas music. Christmas decorations can be seen basically anywhere you go, though they are nothing compared to the dazzling lights back home.

I think of Christmas in China sort of like Cinco de Mayo in the United States. Everyone knows about it, lots of people “celebrate” it, but most people don’t even know why they are celebrating. Chinese people assume that back home Christmas is our New Year celebration, comparable to their Chinese New Year festival. Many passionate college students enjoy learning about Christmas from their English teachers and attempt to throw parties. I remember one of the parties where Halloween decorations had still been up and somehow mixed in with the Christmas decorations.

Giving an apple for Christmas

Photo by imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Even though traditional Chinese culture does not include Christmas in China, modern China has its own tradition for the holiday. People buy apples and wrap them individually in cellophane or tissue paper, or put them in a decorative cardboard box. The apples are then given as gifts to friends and family members on Christmas Eve. Apples are incredibly expensive the week of Christmas. Why on earth do they give away apples??? Let me explain.

The Chinese name for Christmas Eve is actually “night of peace” or “night of safety” which is pronounced ping an ye (平安夜). The Chinese word for apple is ping guo (苹果). The reason for the connection between apples and Christmas in Chinese culture is the ping at the beginning of both words. The character is not the same, but it’s very similar and the sound is exactly the same. Chinese people often make connections between characters with similar sounds. So apples and the night of peace, or Christmas Eve, go together.

Angela Sept 2012 for a show in SeptemberIt can be easy to get depressed about how unlike the “real” holiday Christmas in China is, but as one of my Chinese friends pointed out, it’s more fun this way. It’s all part of the authentic culture experience.  I love having different experiences.  It really makes me appreciate my family Christmas traditions.

If you are or have lived outside the United States, what unique Christmas traditions did you have? How do you celebrate different holidays around the world?

Angela Efros

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