Merry Christmas from China! We’ve been missing our family and friends this holiday season, but we managed to make it a little special anyways. Other Western holidays haven’t really caught on in China, so we were pleasantly surprised to find that the Christmas cheer has spread here. Read on to find out what Christmas is like in a small, authentic Chinese town!
Chinese Christmas Cheer
Western holidays are slowly spreading to China. Around Halloween, there were a few decorations for sale at the supermarket. Thanksgiving isn’t international enough to have made it out here to the sticks. )We have heard, though, that in the bigger cities KFC is a popular place for Americans to celebrate together. Go figure!) Given those experiences, we weren’t expecting too much out of Christmas.
When our supermarket put up a booth of decorations slightly larger than Halloween, I was pretty pleased. Then one day we went into a different supermarket and found a small artificial Christmas tree. Score! A few days later, Christmas music started playing in the stores. I was feeling festive and excited.
Then, lo and behold, around December 22 our town started to go all out. A gigantic Christmas tree was assembled outside the supermarket. Plastic figures of Santa and his reindeer took up residence by the mall entrance, complete with a huge red stage behind them. The local KTV put up a tunnel of lights, and stores filled their window fronts with Christmas trees and large Santa faces. Christmas had arrived in China!
We did also learn a few things about Chinese Christmas traditions. Giving gifts is becoming slightly more common, but isn’t nearly as big and important as it is in the West. Instead, they give apples on Christmas Eve. We found huge apples on display at the supermarket, some including a sweet treat at the center! Interestingly, all the local schools have banned the students from celebrating Christmas at school because they don’t want sweethearts exchanging presents (dating is forbidden until college).
Our Own Chinese Christmas
Although the Christmas spirit was spreading throughout town, it isn’t an official holiday and we didn’t have Christmas day off. Luckily, Christmas Eve fell on a Sunday so we designated that as our day to celebrate. In the afternoon, we visited two local churches with one of Tommy’s students. The first was in a sketchy alley, but was a nice room with a very friendly congregation. If there is one thing we’ve learned about China, it’s that someone will always offer you food – we’ve gotten very good at the “full” belly rub mime! A lead singer performed “Hallelujah” and “How Great Thou Art,” with the congregation joining on choruses.
The second was a large Catholic church that had been built in 2015. They were holding a Bible study, part of which involved them singing Christmas songs. We listened to them sing a few traditional Christmas hymns in Chinese, and they invited us to sing as well. Since they had just sung “Hark the Herald, Angels Sing” we sang the English translation. Requests for us to sing are very common in China, but this is the first time we’ve agreed. It was really powerful to be able to connect our similarities across languages through the hymn!
After visiting the churches, we spent the afternoon cooking. For our Chinese Christmas dinner, we made chicken with mushrooms, creamed spinach, mashed potatoes, and roasted sweet potatoes. We don’t cook together often, and when I do cook it’s usually only one dish. Making variations of traditional dishes and having a varied meal made dinner feel special, although we still missed having a big family get-together. We finished the night off with a Christmas movie and a little lesson planning for me.
On Christmas day, we worked and didn’t really celebrate, but it was alright since we had planned for Christmas Eve to be the special day. My Christmas present for Tommy was buffalo dip and his to me was three packages of cheese – funny how important simple Western food has become to us here!
Throughout the weekend, we were blessed to be able to call and video chat with most of our family. For those friends and family we haven’t chatted with recently, we hope you had a merry Christmas and are looking forward to the New Year! Lots of love from China.