In 2010, I ate my Christmas lunch in Pizza Hut in Hangzhou with friends (being just a normal day, it wasn’t particularly busy). There was Christmas music playing, a Christmas tree, and all the waiters and waitresses were dressed up as elves. But once you stepped out, there was nothing…
Christmas isn’t really a big thing in China.
I also spent Christmas in China in 2014, and you would barely know it was Christmas at all from looking around the streets. It’s not a national holiday (except in Hong Kong and Macao), everybody is at work, and everything is pretty much business as normal.
Unlike in some other Asian countries, for example South Korea, where there is a large Christian population, less than 1% of the population in China are Christian, so festivals such as Christmas are hardly celebrated at all.
In fact, most Chinese people know about Christmas, from popular culture, and the festival is starting to have a bigger influence in the major cities. Many people know about it Western books and films or from having travelled abroad.
But the combination of Chinese New Year being the biggest family festival of the year in January or February and not getting any time off work pretty much makes Christmas a non event.
However, there are some places in China where you can still find a bit of Christmas spirit (apart from the large international hotels and bars).
Christmas in China is largely a commercial festival, so to find it, you often have to head to the shops and restaurants, where you often see trees and decorations hung up, and even Christmas songs in Chinese being played over the speakers.
Many shops have taken advantage of having another festival and have ‘Christmas promotions’, so some people will go shopping after work to pick up some deals.
I’ve even noticed that many shops put up Christmas decorations but don’t take them down for months, and it can feel strange when you’re still seeing them in March or April. There are also fewer Christmas lights that you see in towns and cities in Europe and the US.
In some ways, it’s strange that Christmas isn’t bigger in China, because after all, so much of Christmas is made there.
A huge proportion of the plastic Christmas trees, decorations, Christmas hats, crackers and the toys you find in them are made in China.
I remember on a visit to Guangzhou months before Christmas, I saw dozens of trees and lights piled up in the street waiting to be exported wholesale around the world, and it dawned on me just how much of Christmas China manufactures.
There’s even a whole town called Yiwu that apparently manufactures 60% of the world’s Christmas decorations.
So how do you say ‘Happy Christmas’ in Chinese?
It’s 圣诞快乐 shèngdàn kuàilè (holy birth happy).
Or you can say 圣诞节快乐 shèngdànjié kuàilè (holy birth festival happy).
Happy New Year’ is 新年快乐 xīnnián kuàilè (new year happy). It’s as simple as that.
And here are some others to know!
Christmas Eve – 平安夜 píng ān yè
Christmas tree – 圣诞树 shèng dàn shù
Christmas stocking – 圣诞袜 shèng dàn wà
Christmas dinner – 圣诞大餐 shèng dàn dà cān
Santa Claus – 圣诞老人 shèng dàn lǎo rén (Christmas old man!)
Christmas lights 圣诞彩灯 shèng dàn cǎi dēng
Finally, if you celebrate Christmas where you are, then have a very happy Christmas and a happy New Year, and I’ll be back with more Chinese learning tips in 2016!