By Jessica Chen, China Insight Intern*
Christmas is a holiday to celebrate the birth of Jesus, and the name was first recorded in England in 1039. Now, it is a holiday that is popular and widely celebrated across the world with different traditions. Some people celebrate for gifts and time spent with families, and some for religious purposes. Since Christmas is known as a Western holiday, there is a huge difference between Chinese Christmas traditions and American traditions.
Christmas Traditions in China
One of the most prominent Christmas traditions in China is to eat an apple on Christmas Eve. This apple is called the Peace Apple. People would often send carved apples with messages to their friends and families to express their love and blessings through the apples. This evolved because Christmas Eve in Chinese is called ping ’an ye, which means a peaceful night, and the Chinese word for apple is ping Guo, which has a similar sound. So, this tradition is only exclusive to the Chinese as it has evolved from a Chinese homophone.
Christmas is also often not a religious holiday in China as only 3-5% of the population identifies as a Christian. This means the holiday is often for shopping and meaningful family time. It can also be interpreted as similar to Valentine’s Day since many couples use this chance to go out with their significant others and send gifts. Malls in China around this time are often crowded with people for dining and shopping.
Santa and his sisters! This may be a surprise, but Santa in China is believed to have sisters instead of his helper elves you usually hear in the western countries. He is often seen to be accompanied by three women in the decorations in Chinese malls.
Christmas Traditions Celebrated in the U.S.
Although there are a lot of other fun Christmas traditions in the U.S., Christmas is a lot more religious in the U.S. compared to China because 63% of the population identifies themselves as Christian. This means going to Church and worshipping the birth of Jesus will be more prominent than shopping and exchanging gifts for a lot of people. It may include praying, worshipping and songs of praise.
A fun tradition in the U.S. would be building a gingerbread house. Every household would build and decorate its own unique gingerbread house for the holiday, which adds fun and colors to the family celebrations.
Another tradition would be to wear an ugly sweater. A lot of people in China would want to dress nice and formal for the holiday, and while that is also true for the U.S., wearing an ugly sweater just adds more fun and laughter to the holiday. People would compete to see who has the most unique and weird embroidery.
Both traditions are unique and are derived from their own cultures. It is interesting to see how one holiday could be celebrated so differently in different cultures. There is no correct way to celebrate Christmas, and the most important thing for the upcoming holiday is to enjoy time spent with families; as can be seen from the traditions of both countries, the ultimate goal is to express love and blessings to those around you.
*Editor’s Note: Jessica Chen is a Canadian Chinese freshman student attending the University of Minnesota and is also an intern writer for ChinaInsight.