A mere one percent of Chinese profess Christianity, but as in Japan and indeed various other countries of non-Christian Asia, the festive trappings of Yuletide have been widely embraced in China, though for the time being mostly still in Shanghai, Beijing, Xi’an, Guangdong, of course Hong Kong and Macau, with their longtime tenures under Great Britain and Portugal, as well as other large cities. This time of year is the time of Sheng Dan Jie.
While China’s Christians mark the occasion by attending the traditional midnight mass on Christmas Eve, if it falls on a weekday, for everyone Christmas Day is just another work day. Many Western expats, of course, But many downtown streets especially of cities with a greater degree of Westernisation are festooned with decorations familiar to most of us (particularly notable is Shanghai, where its big riverfront street The Bund, is gaily bedecked, and the city also marks New Year’s Eve with concerts and fireworks, even though Chinese New Year falls in January of February, depending on the year).
Even more so are the shopping malls, packed with coloured lights and adornments; holiday music (“Jingle Bells” is the Yuletide song par excellence here, with its own version in Chinese); the occasional sheng dan lao ren (Santa Claus) and elves; and pride of place given to elaborate sheng dan shu (Christmas trees). This of course is in keeping with the even more commercialised nature of the holiday here than in the West.
What’s more, hip young Chinese like to take the opportunity especially during Yuletide to gather with friends at Western-cuisine restaurants – and believe it or not, for some reason a favourite food for the occasion is pizza. A number of such eateries have even begun to organise special holiday get-togethers.
All of this is of course ramped up especially in Hong Kong, which as a British territory up until 2000 is still the most Westernised place in China (with the possible exception of Macau). Here in addition to all the lights and holiday cheer along the city’s main avenues and in the malls, there are various concerts and other events to make the season bright, as the song goes.
So that, in a nutshell, is the way the holidays roll in China, so… Kung his hsin nien bing chu shen tan!