Christmas in China

All around the area, people are buying gifts, putting up Christmas decorations, and even donating money in the charity box outside. It’s hard to believe that these familiar American Christmas rituals have now crossed the Pacific into Beijing!

From Christmas carols throughout the major shopping malls to richly adorned trees in hotel lobbies, Christmas is in the air! But even though the holiday has only been recently celebrated in China, Beijing seems to have as much Christmas flair as anywhere in the United States.

During my last trip, I was shocked by the sheer volume of Christmas decorations around the city, both secular and sacred. While there are religious Christmas displays, like a large Nativity display and church in a prominent, young people are more excited with many of the secular elements of Christmas.

Many young people view Christmas as a time to go out and party with their friends. In some sense Christmas for them would be equivalent to the U.S. New Year’s Eve, and Chinese New Year serves a role that’s more similar to Christmas. Dancing, going to parties, and simply having fun with friends were some of the popular Christmas activities from the younger generation, but Christmas also remains a way for store owners to boost December revenues.

Traditionally, December tends to be a pretty slow month for Chinese merchants, but over the past several years with increased Christmas advertising, Christmas ornaments, decorations, and gifts have been flying off the shelves.

One Chinese businessman told me that in a few years there will be no difference between the Christmas celebrations in Beijing and Washington, D.C. Looking around at the lights, trees, and festivities, it’s easy to see his point. But while Chinese have imported many cultural elements of Christmas, the religious understanding hasn’t quite taken off. While jingle bells and reindeer now line the streets alongside McDonalds, KFC, and Starbucks, it seems like consumer culture and materialism remain some of the most dominant American exports to China.

It’s kind of ironic that worldwide, we celebrate the humble birth of a baby in a manger with excessive gifts, food, and drinking. Let’s hope that as Christmas continues to become part of Chinese festivities, its true meaning isn’t completely drowned out by the lavish excesses.