Does China celebrate Christmas? Should you be an expat or traveler visiting China during the holiday season, you are likely wondering how and with whom you will spend Christmas. Having spent a good many holiday seasons in China myself, I’d like to share some good ways to spend Christmas in China.
The fact is that Christmas isn’t celebrated as part of the official calendar of Chinese holidays.
Not a single “western” holiday is.
When you combine that with the fact that there are relatively few Christians in China, Christmas celebrations are hard to come by.
With that said, there is still plenty of fun and excitement in China to take part in during the holiday season.
Christmas Shopping in China
Like at home, Christmas in China is largely a commercial event. Sad, I know. But it’s true.
Throughout the month of December, Christmas trees, lights and holiday decorations are featured in the largest shopping malls. You are also likely to hear your favorite holiday tunes from back home to help set the holiday mood that technically doesn’t exist in China 🙂
Should you be one that enjoys holiday shopping, malls are a great place to feel in touch with the Christmas season in China.
In terms of saving money, you are also likely to see your fair share of promotions during the holidays. However, these deals don’t even come close to the sales offered during Singles Day.
Should I Give Close Friends Gifts for Christmas in China?
Since celebrating Christmas in China isn’t all too common, giving gifts is entirely up to you. During my time in China, I participated in Secret Santa’s with the foreign community and I gave Christmas gifts to my Chinese friends.
While shopping for foreign expats is easy, giving Christmas gifts for Chinese falls into a whole different cultural realm centered around the idea of “guanxi”, or building and strengthening relationships rather than spreading Christmas cheer.
If struggling to find a good gift for a local friend, you can check out some of these gift ideas for Chinese people.
Of course, you can never go wrong by sending a red envelope (hóngbāo 红包) filled with some cash (100 RMB is more than enough for a close friend).
How to Spend Christmas with Chinese
The only Chinese likely to celebrate Christmas are those that are young and more exposed to Western culture. You should also know the way Chinese celebrate Christmas is likely much different than you would expect.
Typically, Chinese see Christmas as an opportunity to get together with friends for a nice meal like hotpot or Western food, sing karaoke, or party at a bar. Chinese couples also see Christmas as a romantic holiday and opportunity to go on a date.
Should local friends invite you to celebrate Christmas with them, be ready for a good time and a very alternative Christmas.
How to Spend Christmas with Foreigners in China
If however, you are hoping for a more traditional Christmas setting where you exchange gifts around a Christmas tree and partake in an old fashioned Christmas dinner, your best bet is to spend the holiday with foreigners.
For travelers staying in hostels in large cities like Beijing or Shanghai, chances are your hostel already has a Christmas party planned to take advantage of the holiday frenzy. Travelers to less touristy areas may not be so lucky as December is the low point of the travel season.
For folks living in China, try asking your foreign friends and colleagues and see if anyone is hosting for Christmas. Otherwise you can organize your own Christmas celebration. While you will need to scout around to find a Christmas turkey or ham, Christmas trees and other decorations for your home can be easily purchased on Taobao.
You can also consider skipping cooking Christmas dinner as Western restaurants generally cater to the foreign community by offering traditional holiday meals.
Can I Attend Christmas Mass in China?
Churchgoers should have an easy time attending mass on Christmas Day. Christians, while few in number in China, are large enough to where you can commonly find churches in large cities.
In Beijing and Shanghai, you may even be lucky enough to find a church with services in English. In smaller cities, you may have no choice but to attend mass in Chinese.
To find a church, try opening Baidu Maps on your phone (or Google Maps with VPN) and search for churches in English or jiàotáng 教堂, which is Chinese for church. From there try scouting out the church ahead of time to learn the service schedule.
To find a church specific to your religious denomination, you may need to do some good old fashioned networking. Ask around, meet people, and start to learn about the religious communities in your area.
Final Thoughts | Celebrating Christmas in China
Folks spending Christmas in China, while your holiday may not be filled with caroling and eggnog, there are plenty of great ways to spend your holiday.
Youthful Chinese regularly mark Christmas with fun and food and you can always enjoy a more traditional style Christmas with your foreign friends. Another plus is the holiday music and Christmas trees in malls are enough to feel the Christmas cheer!