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Expat Exchange - Christmas in China
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Shanghai, China


Christmas in China

By Joshua Wood, LPC

SJB Global
SJB Global

Summary: Explore the festive traditions of Christmas and New Year in China, where the celebrations are marked by special foods, church ceremonies, the exchange of gifts, and an array of cultural customs.

The holiday season in China may not mirror the traditional Western Christmas and New Year's festivities, but it offers its own unique experiences. For expats and digital nomads spending their first winter holidays in China, it's an opportunity to witness how global traditions have blended with local customs to create a festive atmosphere unlike any other.

Christmas in China

Christmas, known as "Sheng Dan Jie" in Mandarin, is not a public holiday in China, and for most locals, it's a regular working day. However, in larger cities like Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, the influence of Western culture is evident with malls and streets adorned with Christmas trees, lights, and decorations. Santa Claus, or "Sheng Dan Lao Ren" (Christmas Old Man), makes appearances in shopping centers, much to the delight of children.

While the religious aspect of Christmas is not widely observed, the commercial side has been embraced, particularly among the younger generation. Gift-giving is becoming more common, with friends and colleagues exchanging presents. These gifts are often small tokens, such as chocolates, accessories, or customized items. Christmas cards are also a popular way to convey holiday wishes.

New Year's Celebrations

New Year's Eve is more widely celebrated in China, with countdown parties and fireworks displays in major cities. It's a time for social gatherings, with people enjoying dinners with friends or attending events. However, the most significant New Year celebration in China is the Lunar New Year, or Spring Festival, which takes place a few weeks later. This is when the largest festivities and family reunions occur, and it's considered the most important holiday of the year.

Festive Events and Activities

In the lead-up to Christmas, many hotels and expat communities organize holiday bazaars and Christmas markets, offering a range of festive goods, from decorations to artisanal crafts. Choir performances and Christmas-themed shows are also common, providing a taste of the holiday spirit for those far from home.

For a more immersive experience, some expats and digital nomads venture to areas like Yiwu, known for manufacturing a significant portion of the world's Christmas decorations. Here, one can see the juxtaposition of Chinese industry with the Western holiday season.

Food and Desserts

Traditional Western Christmas foods are not commonly found in Chinese cuisine, but international hotels and restaurants often offer special holiday menus featuring dishes like roast turkey or ham for those craving a taste of home. Desserts such as Christmas cakes and cookies can be found in Western bakeries and some Chinese supermarkets.

For New Year's, while the Western tradition of champagne toasts is known, the local preference might lean towards baijiu, a strong Chinese liquor, or other regional drinks.

Christmas Eve and Day Traditions

Christmas Eve is sometimes celebrated with more enthusiasm than Christmas Day. It's a popular night for young people to go out, exchange gifts, and enjoy the festive lights. Christmas Day itself is typically a quiet affair for most Chinese people, but expats and digital nomads often gather for communal meals or potlucks to create a sense of shared celebration.

Church services are available, especially in cities with larger expat populations. Those interested in attending church will find that services are held on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, with some offering English-language services.

Decorations and Festivities Hotspots

Certain neighborhoods and shopping districts go all out with their Christmas decorations. In Beijing, areas like Sanlitun and Wangfujing are known for their elaborate displays and festive atmosphere. Shanghai's Nanjing Road and the Bund also become illuminated winter wonderlands, attracting both locals and visitors.

Christmas markets, similar to those found in Europe, can be found in these bustling areas, offering holiday crafts, foods, and sometimes ice-skating rinks to complete the wintry experience.

In conclusion, while Christmas and New Year's in China may not have the same traditional feel as in Western countries, there's still plenty of holiday cheer to be found. Expats and digital nomads can enjoy the fusion of cultures, partake in local festivities, and even find pockets of familiar celebrations to feel closer to home during the holiday season.

About the Author

Joshua Wood Joshua Wood, LPC joined Expat Exchange in 2000 and serves as one of its Co-Presidents. He is also one of the Founders of Digital Nomad Exchange. Prior to Expat Exchange, Joshua worked for NBC Cable (MSNBC and CNBC Primetime). Joshua has a BA from Syracuse and a Master's in Clinical and Counseling Psychology from Fairleigh Dickinson University. Mr. Wood is also a licensed counselor and psychotherapist.

Some of Joshua's articles include Pros and Cons of Living in Portugal, 10 Best Places to Live in Ireland and Pros and Cons of Living in Uruguay. Connect with Joshua on LinkedIn.


SJB Global
SJB Global

SJB Global
SJB Global

Shanghai, China

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