Christmas in China 2018 (How It's Celebrated)

ChristmasAt Christmas in China, you'll see many of the same decorations up. Most decorations are made in China anyway!

Christmas has been steadily gaining popularity in mainland China in the last two decades. In the biggest cities, it has been a big commercial success and a newly adopted festive tradition. However, most people in China do not celebrate as people do in the West...

How Most People in China Celebrate Christmas

Most Chinese people do not celebrate Christmas at all. This is especially true in rural and minority areas, where Western and Christian influence are negligible. Christmas is not a public holiday in Mainland China.

The commercial Christmas has become a major annual event in the major cities in China. On the streets and in department stores, there are Christmas trees, lights, and decorations. You'll hear Christmas music playing from the end of November, over the noise of the crowds shopping for Christmas season promotions. A Chinese "Father Christmas" (圣诞老人 Shèngdàn Lǎorén /shnng-dan laoww-rnn/) helps to make the scene complete.

Decorations are put up anywhere that wants to participate in the "international" celebration: hotels, businesses, schools, universities (particularly foreign language departments), even some tourist attractions.

Most Chinese people who celebrate Christmas do so as a happy occasion for get-togethers of friends, relatives, and couples. Christmas parties might be held at a friend's house, McDonald's, a karaoke cafe, restaurant, or bar. There is a festive atmosphere, and people enjoy the decorations and unusual music. Many younger Chinese see it as a romantic holiday for couples to exchange gifts and date.

Christmas Traditions in China — Practiced by a Minority

Chinese Christians — How They Celebrate

Christmas at Wangfujing ChurchWangfujing Church in Beijing at Christmas

China's Christians (only 1% of the population officially) generally celebrate Christmas religiously, sometimes more so than in the West.

While most Chinese people don't realize that Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ or attach any religious significance to the (foreign) festivities, many of China's Christians celebrate Christmas as the top event of the year, outranking even Chinese New Year, preparing songs and activities weeks before.

Christians in China celebrate by going to special church services, which are typically packed to capacity. On Christmas Eve, there are choral performances, and the congregation puts on dance and drama performances. Christmas Eve is called ‘Peaceful Evening' (Ping'an Ye 平安夜 from the translation of the carol "Silent Night").

Carol singing in the streets is rarely seen, though it's popular in Christian's houses, where the karaoke machine, ever popular in China, may be employed.

Tourists — How to Enjoy Christmas if You're Traveling in China

Beijing sidecar tripIf you're touring China at Christmas, we'll do our best to make your trip special.

Tourists will find celebrations going on in most major cities, and domestic transportation and hotel rooms costs are some of the lowest of the year due to it being low season in China. Many of the larger hotels and some Western restaurants offer traditional Christmas dinners.

Expats — What Foreigners in China Do at Christmas

Expats (from countries and cultures who celebrate Christmas) decorate their homes and try to generate an atmosphere as much like at home as possible. Many feel particularly homesick at this time of year.

Purchasing the trappings of Christmas is becoming increasingly possible in China, especially in the big cities where big malls and Christmas markets sell wrapping paper, cards, etc., and there are import stores for Christmas ingredients. Online shopping is increasingly the cheapest was to get e.g. a Christmas tree and decorations or even a turkey delivered to your door.

Expats hold Christmas parties in their homes and often in their schools if they are teachers. A Christmas dinner with family, or at least friends if family are far away, is seen as very important by most.

Christmas Gifts in China

Apple with a Rooster on for 2017 in ChinaApples with messages on are given at Christmas in China... and with Chinese zodiac signs on at Chinese New Year.

Generally, gifts are not given at Christmas in China, except among expats. Often malls will have a Santa who hands out gifts to children, but these are usually opened the same day. There is no tradition of waiting for Christmas Day to open presents.

An unusual apple giving tradition has evolved in the country. Ping in the word 'apple' (苹果 píngguǒ /ping-gwor/) sounds like the word 'peace' in Mandarin, which is used for Christmas Eve ('Peaceful Evening'), so people give and eat apples, particularly on Christmas Eve. Apples are sold with messages printed on the skin (in Chinese): 'love', love hearts, and 'peace' are popular messages.

Christmas cards (especially a variety of good ones without English mistakes etc.) can be difficult to find in China, but the situation is far better in big cities and online. E-cards are WeChat messages are popular ways of greeting each other. 

See our selection of Chinese Christmas e-cards.

Christmas in Major Tourist Areas Around China

Hong Kong

Christmas, Hong KongChristmas carollers in a Hong Kong mall

In Hong Kong, Christmas Day (December 25) and Boxing Day (December 26) are both official public holiday. Banks are closed on these days. Boxing Day is a British tradition. It is a day for shopping for after-holiday sales and for employers to give gifts to employees.

Hong Kong is one of the best places in the world to go for a festive Christmas atmosphere, with its two-day public holiday. The American CNN television network named the Hong Kong WinterFest as one of the Top 10 places to spend Christmas in the whole world. Hong Kong is known for fantastic Christmas displays, fine food, and Christmas shopping. More on Christmas in Hong Kong

Beijing

Christmas in Beijing is celebrated with keen interest by some of Beijing's younger generation. Usually it is celebrated as a happy occasion for social get-togethers and giving presents. However, most people work on Christmas day unless it happens to fall on a weekend. Christmas in Beijing is mainly commercial; it is a busy shopping season. Some of the major hotels have special Christmas dinners, and people can also be reminded of the original meaning of Christmas at churches in Beijing. More on Christmas in Beijing

Shanghai

Shanghai is a center for world trade and a place where East meets West. In a modern, highly-developed city, smart shopkeepers don't lose any opportunity to sell their products. Most shops in the downtown area decorate their shops to attract visitors in the holiday period. Christmas carols are heard everywhere. More on Christmas in Shanghai

Guangzhou

Christmas treeA Christmas display in Guangzhou

It sometimes seems that Christmas is more popular than Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) in Guangzhou, especially to the young people. There are three things they love to do: have Christmas parties, go shopping, and enjoy Christmas dinner. Why not go Christmas shopping in Guangzhou? More on Christmas in Guangzhou

Guilin

There are fewer Christians and Christmas is less celebrated. Famous for its karst landscape, Guilin draws many foreign and domestic tourists, but very few in the winter and at Christmas time. 

Taiwan

tianhecheng Chinese-style Christmas decorations in a China mall

In Taiwan, Christmas is generally celebrated more than in Mainland China, but less than in HK and Macau.

Christmas is an unofficial holiday in Taiwan, but only because it coincides with Constitution Day, the anniversary of the signing of Taiwan's constitution in 1947. While its 5% Christian population celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ in churches and homes across the island, the majority enjoy the decorations and displays in shops, and general commercialism. 

Macau

In Macau, Christmas Eve (December 24) and Christmas Day are official public holidays. Both days and December 26 as well are bank holidays. 

How to Say "Merry Christmas" in Chinese

  • 圣诞快乐! Shèngdàn kuàilè! /shnng-dan kwhy-ler/ 'Holy-birth happy!'

The Top Three Chinese Christmas Songs

Apart from (classic) English carols and pop songs the Chinese songs you are most likely to hear playing are the Chinese versions (to the same tunes) of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas", "Silent Night", and "Jingle Bells". Lyrics in characters and pinyin, and literal translations, are shown below.

Women Zhu Ni Shengdan Kuaile — 'We Wish You a Merry Christmas'

我们祝你圣诞快乐
我们祝你圣诞快乐
我们祝你圣诞快乐
祝你新年快乐

把新讯带到
每一个角落
把新年的新讯
带给你们和我

Wǒmen zhù nǐ shèngdàn kuàilè
wǒmen zhù nǐ shèngdàn kuàilè
wǒmen zhù nǐ shèngdàn kuàilè
Zhù nǐ xīnnián kuàilè

Bǎ xīn xùn dài dào
Měi yīgè jiǎoluò
Bǎ xīnnián de xīn xùn
Dài gěi nǐmen hé wǒ

We wish you a merry Christmas
We wish you a merry Christmas
We wish you a merry Christmas
Wishing you a happy New Year

Take the news
To every corner
Take the New Year news
To you and me

Or...

把星星带到
每一个角落
把新年的心绪
带给你们和我

Bǎ xīngxīng dài dào
Měi yīgè jiǎoluò
Bǎ xīnnián de xīn xù
Dài gěi nǐmen hé wǒ

Take stars
To every corner
Take the New Year new mood
To you and me

Ping'an Ye — 'Silent Night'

平安夜 圣善夜
万暗中 光华射
照着圣母也
照着圣婴
多少慈祥也
多少天真
静享天赐安眠
静享天赐安眠

平安夜 圣善夜
牧羊人 在旷野
忽然看见了
天上光华
听见天军唱
哈利路亚
救主今夜降生
救主今夜降生

平安夜 圣善夜
神子爱 光皎洁
救赎宏恩的
黎明来到
圣容发出来
荣光普照
耶稣我主降生
耶稣我主降生

Píng'ān yè shèngshàn yè
Wàn àn zhōng guānghuá shè
Zhàozhe shèngmǔ yě
zhàozhe shèng yīng
Duōshǎo cíxiáng yě
duōshǎo tiānzhēn
Jìng xiǎng tiāncì ānmián
Jìng xiǎng tiāncì ānmián

Píng'ān yè shèngshàn yè
Mùyáng rén zài kuàngyě
Hūrán kànjiànle
tiānshàng guānghuá
Tīngjiàn tiān jūn chàng
hālìlùyà
jiù zhǔ jīnyè jiàngshēng
jiù zhǔ jīnyè jiàngshēng

Píng'ān yè shèngshàn yè
Shénzi ài guāng jiǎojié
Jiùshú hóng ēn di
límíng lái dào
Shèng róng fà chūlái
róngguāng pǔzhào
Yēsū wǒ Zhǔ jiàngshēng
Yēsū wǒ Zhǔ jiàngshēng

Peaceful night holy night
In the darkness glory shone
On the holy mother and
on the holy child
So much mercy and
so much heavenly truth
Quietly enjoys heavenly rest
Quietly enjoys heavenly rest

Peaceful night holy night
Shepherds in the wilderness
Suddenly saw
heavenly glory
Heard the heavenly host sing
"Hallelujah" 
The Savior tonight is born
The Savior tonight is born

Peaceful night holy night
God's Son love's light shines
Redeeming grace's
dawn has come
The holy face emanates
glory shining
Jesus my Lord is born
Jesus my Lord is born

Dingding Dang — "Jingle Bells"

穿过大风雪
我们坐在雪橇上
飞奔过田野
我们欢笑又歌唱
马儿铃声响
令人心欢畅
我们今夜滑雪
真快乐
把滑雪歌儿唱

叮叮当叮叮当
铃儿响叮当
我们今夜多快乐
坐在雪橇上
叮叮当叮叮
当铃儿响叮当
我们今夜多快乐
坐在雪橇上

Chuānguo dà fēng xuě
Wǒmen zuò zài xuěqiāo shàng
Fēi bēnguò tiányě
Wǒmen huānxiào yòu gēchàng
Mǎ'er língshēng xiǎng
Lìng rénxīn huānchàng
Wǒmen jīnyè huáxuě
Zhēn kuàilè
Bǎ huáxuě gē'er chàng

Dīngdīng dāng dīngdīng dāng
Líng'er xiǎng dīngdāng
Wǒmen jīnyè duō kuàilè
Zuò zài xuěqiāo shàng
Dīngdīng dāng dīngdīng dāng
Líng'er xiǎng dīngdāng
Wǒmen jīnyè duō kuàilè
Zuò zài xuěqiāo shàng

Through the wind and snow
We ride on a sleigh
Flying over the fields
We all laugh and sing
Horse's bells ringing
Makes our hearts joyful
Tonight we're sleighing
so happily
singing a sleighing song

Ding-a-ling ding-a-ling
Bells ring ding-a-ling
Tonight we are so happy
Riding on a sleigh
Ding-a-ling ding-a-ling
Bells ring ding-ling
We tonight are so happy
Riding on a sleigh

Touring China at Christmas Time (Top Tips)

Customers at the Tian‘anmen SquareOur customers at Tian‘anmen Square in Beijing, conspicuously lacking any Christmas decoration.

If you come to China at Christmas, you should go to one of the biggest cities to appreciate the unique atmosphere. Hong Kong is our top recommendation. If you venture north as well, you could enjoy skiing around Beijing and the start of the Ice and Snow Festival in Harbin.

China tourism low season: The end of December is either busy or a winding down period of work for most mainland Chinese before their big winter holidays at Chinese New Year. So domestic transportation and room rates are lower since it is tourist low season.

International flights are more expensive due to students, overseas workers and foreigners travelling during the Christmas season overseas.

Recommended Tours:

Contact us for consultancy or a quote on a unique Christmas in China trip.

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