Christmas in China

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Beyond Chinatown: Touching only briefly on Santa’s sweatshops and the kitschy, but endearing (when it comes to Christmas, it’s all good), ways China celebrates Christmas, The Atlantic teaches us about the Chinese spirit of Christmas with a look at how overseas students returning home for the winter holiday have influenced the holiday, why and how people celebrate the holiday, and what it means to some of the 100 million Christians in China.  The Economist gives us the basics:“Family reunions are not part of Christmas tradition in China; for most people it is a chance to enjoy public displays of lights, and, for a growing number of younger Chinese, to exchange gifts with colleagues and friends (China’s home-grown festivals are not so centred around gift-giving). As elsewhere, Christmas in China is a merry time to shop.”

Fenggang Yang (杨凤岗 / 楊鳳崗), Professor of Sociology and Director of Center on Religion and Chinese Society at Purdue University says, “Many Chinese have become so much in tune with globalization that they don’t really care whether this is Western or Chinese,” there are scrooges that follow the Central Government’s call to defend China against Western influence and see Christmas as a Western intrusion on Chinese culture.

University students in Changsha publicly called for a boycott of the holiday.  At the Modern College at Northwest University (西北大学 / 西北大學), students were confined to campus grounds and required to watch a documentary on traditional culture. and requiring them to watch a documentary on traditional culture.   In Wenzhou, wherechurches were demolished earlier this year, Christmas activities were banned from schools.  (In solidarity, 800 Christians from Wenzhou now living in the New York City area gathered in Flushing for the first Wenzhou Christmas Banquet)

Changsha Demonstrations

Christmas was banned in the 60s and 70s, but these incidents are probably more the work of single dogs who didn’t get apples from anybody last year.  In an editorial, Global Times (环球时报 / 寰球時報), a paper published by People’s Daily (人民日报 / 人民日報), recognizes the concern but believes Christmas to be a secular holiday that promotes relaxation, good times, and romance and does not detract from Chinese festivals.  The editorial asks whether Chinese youth has been changed by Christmas or if Christmas is transformed by Chinese youth and whether Chinese traditions can learn from current trends.

Shanghaiist reports that “Professor Zhang Ming of Renmin University of China says that although he never celebrates Christmas, it’s unacceptable and illegal for anyone to force other people not celebrate it. Universities do not have the right to stop its students from going out and celebrating.

President Xi probably agrees.

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Unique Christmas traditions across Asia

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 Audrey Magazine: 

Christmas is less than a week away! For many of us, this season means decorating Christmas trees, navigating through crowded malls, playing the Michael Bublé Christmas album way too much and baking gingerbread cookies. But what does Christmas look like for the rest of the world? More specifically, how is Christmas in Asia?

Asian countries have a smaller number of Christians and Catholics compared to the rest of the world. In Thailand for instance, less than 1% of the population is Christian. As a result, many Asian countries who do celebrate Christmas simply follow Western customs and traditions such as Midnight Mass and the exchange of gifts (but not without enthusiasm). In places like Hong Kong, Vietnam and Malaysia, Western customs and traditions are followed, but the holiday has a more secular view than a religious one.

Of course, this is not the case for all Asian countries. The Philippines, for instance, is one of two predominantly Catholic countries in Asia and Christmas is the most enthusiastically celebrated holiday on the calendar. The country is known for celebrating the world’s longest Christmas season which begins September 1st.

We’ve found that the Asian countries which do celebrate Christmas have an interesting set of traditions specific to their country. Here are some of the most unique ones:

JAPAN

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In 1974, KFC Japan began to promote fried chicken as a Christmas meal. The insanely successful “Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!” (Kentucky for Christmas!) marketing campaign made the “Christmas Chicken” bucket an annual tradition. In fact, the tradition has become so popular, people order their buckets months in advance to avoid the two hour line.

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In addition to KFC fried chicken, there is one more thing that must be on the table for any Japanese home to feel the holiday spirit: Christmas cake. According to anthropologist Michael Ashkenazi, who studied Japanese culture and tradition, Christmas cake is “sold on practically every street corner.”

Japanese Christmas cakes are sponge cakes covered in white cream and ruby red strawberries.

KOREA

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Christianity is still relatively new in Korea, so many Christmas celebrations follow that of Western culture. However, Korea has its own version of Santa Claus. Santa Haraboji, or Grandfather Santa, looks similar to the Western Santa, but he wears a traditional Korean hat (gat) and his statues have often portrayed him in a green suit instead of a red one.

INDONESIA

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Although Indonesia is a Muslim country, Christmas is still regarded as a public holiday celebrated by many. Shopping malls are known to cover themselves in Christmas decorations and Santa Claus is even a widely-known figure. One Christmas tradition in Indonesia that we typically see in July are fireworks.

INDIA

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Similar to Indonesia, India has a very small Christian population, but the 2.3% of Christians (that’s 25 million) are very enthusiastic about Christmas. Religious customs such as Midnight Mass are observed and some even put a small, oil-burning, clay lamp on their roof to show that Jesus is the light of the world. In South India, the tradition of the Christmas tree is alive and well, but instead of pine trees, mangos trees are used.

PHILIPPINES

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In the Philippines, Christmas is celebrated from September until January. Needless to say, this holiday is huge. One of the most well-known traditions is Simbang Gabi (night mass) which are nightly, dawn masses beginning from December 16th and ending on Christmas Eve. The masses are meant to show devotion to God and create more anticipation for the birth of Christ. After each mass, plenty of traditional food is consumed.

A "parol" is a traditional Filipino Christmas lantern.

To us, the Christmas tree is one of the most symbolic decorations of Christmas. In the Philippines, it’s the paról. Paróls are star-shaped lanterns which represents the star of Bethlehem which guided the Three Kings. Early paróls were made of bamboo, rice paper and oil lanterns.

Now, the art form of making paróls has become as intricate as they are beautiful.