Growing up in Sydney my Christmas back home wasn’t exactly your traditional white Christmas. With temperatures soaring into the 30 degrees we swap snow for sand and try to snag a spot at one of Sydney’s beautiful beaches. There’s a big emphasis placed on a seafood lunch and the car queues leading into Sydney’s Fish Markets snake all the way from the carpark to the main road. The reason I’m going off on this little tangent is that it’s close to Christmas and here in Beijing away from my family and childhood friends I am feeling a tad homesick!
My first Christmas in Beijing is shaping up to be a very interesting experience. Sitting here writing this blog post, my takeaway coffee cup has on it a festive Christmas decoration design and in front of me are the words ‘Seasons Greetings’ hanging above the café counter.
Tis the Season in Beijing!
On the surface, it seems as though Beijing is a city like those across the globe during Christmas. There are big Christmas trees set up around major shopping centres. Cringeworthy Christmas carols play on repeat in shops and decorations are in almost every major store.
However, China is missing one major Christmas element –The centuries-long religious worship of Christmas that is embedded in Western Christian society! It’s this historical tradition dating back centuries that led to me waking up as a little boy to a room filled with presents, stockings a Christmas tree and a half-eaten cookie.
Getting into the Festive Spirit
Reminiscing on these fond childhood memories and away from my friends in Sydney and my family, I decided to get in the festive season. Teaming up with Belectric Beijing – an exciting and educational tour guide company, I hit the streets dressed up as Father Christmas and rode around on my 21st-century sleigh to see what Beijingers really thought of Christmas!
Our first stop was the Hutong markets near Beixinqiao in the inner east of Beijing. Tying up Dancer Prancer and Rudolph I took a stroll down the busy market street. There were a few funny looks and stares, but after a few minutes, I had little kids running up to me and astonished voices pointing out that there was a 圣诞老人(shèng dàn lǎo rén) in the crowd (Literally Christmas old person).
Perception of Christmas in China
Having photos taken with little Beijingers and their parents I asked a few parents what they thought of Christmas. The answers varied, most of them said they enjoyed Christmas as it was a nice opportunity to spend time with friends and family.
However, there was no mention of the religious element. Some parents stated it was a very materialistic and western holiday however none were outright negative towards the holiday. One lady said she was indifferent to Christmas as she has never celebrated it – This was particularly interesting as it highlighted the minimal presence Christmas has had in China.
Santa Claus is a Big Hit!
Riding around Beijing our next destination was the huge shopping area in Wangfujing. Here there were several lit up Christmas trees and carols playing through the public walkway. As perceived my Santa Claus was a bit hit! Walking up to one of the Christmas trees for a few photos a crowd started to appear with little kids pushed towards me by their parents to get a photo with Santa! Talking to these parents they all said Christmas was a lovely time of year – although not traditionally celebrated they enjoy the family time it produces.
I was informed of a recent Chinese tradition that takes place on Christmas day which certainly doesn’t happen back home. In China people buy special ‘good luck apples’ and they give them to loved ones. Now this is because the word for apple 苹果 (píng guǒ) has a similar pronunciation to the word for Christmas Eve 平安夜 (píng ān yè) The apple has therefore adopted all the positive vibes that are associated with Christmas (This is only a recent tradition beginning only in the last ten or so years)
A Fun Yet Exhausting Day
Anyway, Santa was exhausted after a long day of riding around and popped into a Hunan restaurant for a delicious dinner of chicken feet and pork trotters!
This was an extremely fun and interesting day out! Christmas in Beijing seems to be an increasingly popular holiday for families and especially those with young children. It has a tacky materialistic side but on the other hand a positive ‘family time’ side. Although lacking the traditional religious significance combined with Christmas trees in houses, stockings and opening presents on Christmas morning it turns out Christmas in China isn’t actually that different from Christmas back home!
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