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Merry Christmas in the Middle Kingdom

Merry Christmas in the Middle Kingdom

By Nadia N.
 
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      缂栬緫閮ㄧ鎵鏈夎鑰呭湥璇炶妭蹇箰锛
 
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Christmas is a magical period of time and everyone waits for it with baited breath. What can possibly be better than having a great dinner with your family and close friends, sharing a good laugh and exchanging blessings and presents? Many countries hold Christmas as the most important and significant holiday of the entire year, but in China things are, of course, quite different. It might be odd to see a totally different attitude towards Christmas in major Chinese cities, and for many expats it appears difficult, if not impossible, to get that very special Christmas spirit… Christmas, long ignored in China along with Christianity itself, is a fascinating phenomenon: a booming business and ultra-popular holiday in the world's leading officially non-religious state. Doubtlessly, this tradition is quite young here, but just like other “business-friendly” Western customs it got absorbed and made its own in China. Let’s take a look on how did Christmas appear in China and how it is celebrated. 
 
Stay or not to stay at home
 
Christmas is a religious holiday. And, doesn’t matter how religious your family is, it always has this very special mood - appreciating the family, being grateful for all the happiness you’ve received and enjoying the company of loved ones. In China, on the contrary, Christmas is the time to get out of the house and do something that is fun. Karaoke, cinema, night club or bar - everything is better than spending another boring evening at home! During Christmas, you can be sure to meet plenty of people everywhere - queues, buzz and crowds at every corner would overwhelm you. But, rather than anything else, Christmas shopping is dragging people out of their homes - Christmas sales and deals are everywhere. In this aspect, Chinese Christmas is very similar to St. Valentine’s Day - a holiday created to revive the sales and feed on consumerism. 

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It’s all about Santa
 
Let’s forget about Jesus - it’s Christmas for crying out loud! Indeed, whenever you ask almost any Chinese person to give some Christmas associations, if not the firsthand the second thing you can hear is Santa Claus. Well, a very popular persona for shopping malls promotions in the West made it to China and made Christmas his very own. However, the little elves helpers are for unknown reason replaced with female Santas or “Santa sisters”. The army of Santa and his sisters are often seen interacting with shoppers in malls and playing with children. Beware! Also, while traveling to China, Santa obviously got some new skills: apart from receiving letters, dropping of some presents here and there, Chinese Santa learned how to play the saxophone - Chinese mascots usually picture him playing this musical instrument! Why is he playing at all? And why is it the saxophone? Maybe we will never know… 
 
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How about some presents?
 
Regardless of how you see Christmas, exchanging gifts is something that every culture agreed on! Chinese Christmas, just like St. Valentine’s Day, can be treated as a romantic holiday for young couples and they might exchange something special. As for giving presents to family members, Chinese prefer to wait until the Chinese New Year. However, more frequently than others, colleagues might exchange little gifts for Christmas. Don’t expect anything fancy or from the heart - people at work usually receive an apple wrapped in colorful cellophane for this meaningful day. Why apple? The Chinese word for “Christmas Eve” and the word “apple” sound similar, so apples are sometimes associated with Christmas. It is quite interesting that many apple gifts have a kind of “tattoo” with wishes and also carry Santa’s picture. 
 
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Looking for spirituality
 
With existing Christian communities in major Chinese cities, expats are always welcome to visit churches on this very special day. In China, nowadays, many churches are offering masses in English and anyone interested can easily join. Of course, like in churches in other countries, Christmas masses are held in a special manner and it is a great opportunity for you to feel at home again. 
 
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