How do the Chinese celebrate Christmas? Readers frequently ask this question as winter approaches. Although many traditions - such as kissing under the mistletoe - have their origins in pre-Christian pagan celebrations, Christmas is a Christian holiday honoring the birth of Christ. With baptized Christians comprising approximately only one percent of the Chinese population, it seems safe to assume that Christmas is not a major holiday.
Christmas: Less Important Than Chinese New Year, But Still Sometimes Celebrated
Chinese New Year is the foremost winter holiday in Chinese culture. Still, that doesn't mean that Christmas is ignored altogether. My friend Judy and her family are a good example. She is a first-generation Canadian, as her Chinese parents emigrated from Hong Kong in the 1950's. When the children were small, her parents put up an artificial Christmas tree each year. Presents were exchanged on Christmas morning - unfortunately, she missed out on having a Christmas stocking, since her parents were unfamiliar with that particular custom!
Food and Family
As in western culture, Christmas day was a time to spend with family. Judy recalls sitting down with relatives to a large meal on Christmas day, but it could be served at either lunch or dinner. Instead of turkey, her father would prepare foods such as roast barbecued pork, chicken, and soup with wood ears.
Reminiscing, she says the meal had more in common with a Chinese New Year's banquet than a traditional Christmas dinner.
Now that there are no children in the house, the artificial tree has been relegated to the garage, and the family often skips the large meal, although everyone still exchanges gifts.
Chinese New Year has returned to being the major winter holiday.
Christmas Celebrations in China and Hong Kong
While Christmas Day is not a public holiday, Christmas celebrations are becoming more popular in China itself. Particularly in urban areas, you'll find Christmas trees, lights, and other decorations on the streets and in department stores. Children hang up muslin stockings in the hope that Dun Che Lao Ren, the Chinese version of Santa Claus, will visit and leave gifts. Attendance at Christmas Eve mass has also become more popular in recent years. (A similar trend can be found in Japan, where store owners have discovered the commercial potential of celebrating the Yuletide season.
Ta Chiu, a Taoist festival, takes place on December 27th in Hong Kong. One of the more interesting traditions of this festival comes near the end, when the priests read the names of everyone who lives in the area. When the priest has finished reading the list, the names are attached to a paper horse and burned, the hope being that they will rise to heaven.
Browse some festive recipes: