For most Chinese, Christmas Day is no more special than any other day of the year. But why in the last few years has it become increasingly popular to celebrate the holiday? I am reliably informed by a taxi driver that it is an excuse for members of a material-obsessed society to buy presents for oneself. But here are some other reasons that might be worth considering.
Valentine’s Comes Twice A Year
For many young people, Christmas is a couple’s festival, meaning that men are expected to buy their girlfriends presents (although the opposite is not expected). As people travel around the city to meet their other halves, Christmas and Christmas Eve see Beijing turn into one horrific traffic jam. Thus on Christmas Day, I found myself not the only person getting out of a gridlocked car on the fourth ring road for a moonlit stroll to get to my destination.
Christmas Apples 平安果
The Chinese words for ‘Christmas Eve’ and ‘apple’ sound similar. Thus apples wrapped in coloured cellophane have become a Chinese Christmas tradition. So far, no shopkeeper has been able to tell me why or what kind of people like receiving individually wrapped festive apples. The most common response I’ve had so far is, ‘they just are’.
Ending On A High
Of course, no Christmas would be complete without a trip to Church. My host family managed to get me hot tickets to one of the over-subscribed Christmas services at their local protestant church (which seats several hundred) where you’re greeted by aisles of grinning volunteers flinging knitted red scarves around your neck and telling you that ‘Jesus loves you!’ (耶稣爱你). Aside from a daringly unrehearsed a cappella performance of a Chinese hymn, the highlight of the service was an army of Santas handing out bags of sweets at the end.
The Fun Never Stops 好好学习天天向上
Of course, for some university students, life continues as normal with an early morning nap in a campus convenience store to break up a all-night study session, accompanied by a little packet of duck neck to snack on.