What You Need to Know Before Celebrating Chinese Christmas

Christmas (圣诞节, shèngdànjié) is right around the corner! If you have never spent your Christmas in China these traditions will definitely make you think, and for the readers who have celebrated Chinese Christmas hopefully this post will bring about happy memories.

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1. 苹果 (píngguǒ, apple)

Earlier in the month, I talked with my colleagues about the coming Christmas, and naturally packaged apples came up. These are sold all over China. Many online stores and peddlers are seen selling these packaged apples, and it made me ask, “Who would have imagined that apples are the symbol of Christmas in China?” Surprised by my question one of my colleagues asked, “Isn’t eating apples on the Christmas Eve a tradition worldwide?” This is one of a few things that China does differently for “圣诞节(shèngdànjié)”, and the real question is, why are apples so popular in China during Christmas time? Well the simple answer is – Chinese.

In China, apples represent “peace and security” since “píngguǒ” is composed of the same “píng” as in “平安 (píng’ān)”, which means “peaceful and secured”, and “果(guǒ)” meaning “fruit”. Therefore, in Chinese, an apple translates to the “fruit of peace”. Furthermore, “Christmas Eve” is translated as “平安夜(píng’ānyè)”, which literately means “the night of peace”. See the relationship now? It was only natural for the “night of peace” and “the fruit of peace” to come together. Below are a few examples of the Christmas season apples called “平安果(píng’ānguǒ)”:

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Or this:

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Sometimes you can even find the apple with “Merry Christmas”(圣诞快乐, shèngdàn kuàilè) on it in Chinese:

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Fun Fact about “苹果(píngguǒ)”: Apple, the popular electric product brand created by Jobs, is also referred to as “苹果(píngguǒ)” in China. So if your Chinese friend asks for a “苹果(píngguǒ)” as a Christmas gift, think twice before saying yes.

2. WeChat and Lucky Money (红包, hóngbāo)

WeChat (微信, wēixìn) is currently China’s most popular instant messenger with well over one hundred million downloads. Apart from serving as a communication tool in which people share pictures and status, there is an additional function called “Lucky Money”. This extra setting was introduced right before the Spring Festival where it is tradition to give money to younger relatives. This remained popular after the holiday, and so to this day anyone and everyone can receive or give out a “red envelope” at any time. For some people exchanging money through “Lucky Money” has become an everyday routine.

微信红包

More and more online or even offline stores have begun organizing promotions through WeChat, and Lucky Money is one of the rewards. For example, by following certain official accounts one has a chance to get a sum of “Lucky Money”. Just like in the West, Christmas is quite a huge celebration in China, and businesses of all sizes actively promote themselves by giving out “Lucky Money”. If by good fortune you are in China during Christmas, then you have a chance of getting “Lucky Money” from your Chinese friends, too. Among friends, people typically give a sum of money that corresponds to the date. For example, some friends might give 2.4 yuan because Christmas Eve falls on the 24th, or 12.24 yuan because of the calendar date. If you manage to find someone who would give you 1214 yuan on Christmas Eve, you really are lucky then!

3. Chinese Christmas

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(I call this a kind of cosplay)

To be frank, Chinese people are quite busy during the winter: Christmas, the New Year, the Spring Festival, then the Valentines’ Day, a good season to spend all the money harvested in the autumn. And it’s all just about to start. Western holidays in China are without a doubt celebrated differently, however there are some things that are executed just the same manner as anywhere else in the world. Two examples come to mind: putting up Christmas decorations the day after Thanksgiving and overly decorating everything. As soon as foreigners were done eating “fire chicken” 火鸡 (huǒjī, turkey), fake Christmas trees came up, ornaments decorated restaurants, and “Jingle Bells” began playing (albeit the lyrics are a little off). In addition, shops all over Beijing have signs posted in English reading “Merry Christmas” with good ol’ Saint Nick. Personally speaking, every day of December has shown some sign of Christmas. What is not lost in translation is the general feel for the holidays. China recognizes that the end of the calendar year is special for the West, and they want to celebrate with us! This reason alone makes Chinese Christmas worth experiencing at least once in a lifetime.