Christmas in China! Christmas Words & Phrases Quiz

Celebrating Christmas in China is a very different experience from the Westernized version celebrated during the winter months. How and why is Christmas in China different? We’ll answer these questions and explain how Chinese people celebrate Yuletide.

Why is Christmas different in China?

The main presumption that you should throw out of the window is that Chinese people understand the meaning and religious background of Christmas. The official statistic is that only 1% of the Chinese population is Christian, although this encompasses the entire country, including the interior where the majority of the country is rural and has a lot of Muslim citizens. On the other hand this means that urban, international cities on China’s Eastern seaboard most likely have a slightly higher proportion; perhaps as high as 5% in cities like Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou. As a general rule though, most Chinese people are not very religious, and do not really know anything about the religious elements of the holiday.

China’s culture cannot be characterized as built upon Christian traditions nor does it define itself on Christian beliefs. This means that Chinese people will not attend midnight masses, set out nativity scenes, or generally do anything associated with the religious aspects of the holiday unless they are member of the religious minority.

So how do Chinese people celebrate Christmas?

Christmas has become widely popular in major cities, and people know of the holiday. The largest impact will be on shopping, as shopping malls and smaller storefronts will put Christmas decorations all over the place. You will see Santa Claus images throughout shopping malls and stuck to windows of shops, large Christmas trees inside or outside malls and plazas, Christmas lights and wreaths intricately strewn across buildings.

Christmas in Shanghai by Liwen Xu Flickr CC 

For many, it is an opportunity to have fun with friends, especially amongst the younger generation. Companies may have Christmas parties, particularly the Western companies that have offices in China. With all of the decorations and outward appearances of a large Christmas culture, very few Chinese people actually celebrate the holiday. Most Chinese people do not have Christmas trees in their homes, there are no classic Chinese Christmas movies, Christmas carols in China aren’t very common, and gifts between friends and family are not as common.

There is a small group of Chinese people that celebrate the holiday with small get-togethers and meals with friends and family, and the number is gradually increasing. The younger Chinese may also exchange inexpensive gifts between friends or colleagues in a way very similar to that of Western countries.

The government does not observe Christmas or Christmas Eve as holidays, and employees are expected to come to work on these days if they are on weekdays. There is the chance that the company is a Western company and will allow its employees to have off, but this is not the standard.

The spirit of the holiday will be different, but in the large cities like Shanghai, generally anything that you would want to buy, consume, or experience associated with Christmas is available. There are churches for the people that would like to go to a service, there are plenty of gifts to buy as the holiday is vastly commercialized, traditional Christmas foods and desserts are accessible at the many restaurants and international supermarkets, there are ice skating rinks, and decorations galore; especially because most of the lights and decorations are manufactured in China. For expatriates or Chinese Christians, the ability to celebrate Christmas has become easier as the country becomes more open to Western ideas.