Christmas in China

I spent 12 days in China with my family over Christmas this year, a whirlwind tour that took us to seven different cities, including the birth-cities of my two adopted daughters.  In a series of blog posts this week, I recount a few observations from the trip.


Last I heard, the Communist Party in China wasn’t that enthusiastic about Christianity.  You never would have known it spending Christmas there with my family a few months back.

We arrived in the Beijing airport to the sounds of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer playing in the background.  Pretty much the only music we heard the whole trip was Christmas music.  This was true not just in places frequented by tourists, but also in shopping malls and restaurants as far-flung as Nanchang and Zhenjiang  — two cities where we didn’t see a single American in two days.  In contrast to the United States, Christmas music didn’t cease and desist on December 25, either.  On January 1st, Christmas carols were still going strong on the player piano in the lobby of our Hong Kong hotel. As we headed for home on the 2nd, however, the holiday tunes had finally given way to The Carpenters greatest hits.

Every hotel featured a towering artificial Christmas tree and a special Christmas dinner offering.  Santa Claus was ubiquitous, both in inanimate form and in the flesh handing out presents to children in the Beijing airport.  The hotel left stockings filled with nuts and candy on our pillows. 

Most incongruously, at a Buddhist shrine, almost in the shadow of an enormous statue of Buddha, a snow machine churned out artificial snow as Santa’s elves were hard at work.  


Leave A Comment

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.



View All Comments »
  1. Dave says:

    You started your post about the Communist Party in China not embracing Christianity but then proceeded “refute” that notion by pointing out secular/commercialistic examples of Christmas.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 12 Thumb down 8
  2. Kentucky Packrat says:

    The current Western tradition of Christmas, including reindeer, Santa, and presents galore, is completely and utterly devoid of theological connections with the birth of Jesus, and usually devoid of any connections with the birth of Jesus.

    If there is no danger of theology, and every inspiration to get people to buy, of course the Chinese government will sign on.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 37 Thumb down 1
    • Clancy says:

      Yeah, this sounds more like the “Secular Christmas” that I and my Non-Christian family and friends happily celebrate every year.

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 19 Thumb down 1
    • Sam Lufi (@slufi) says:

      Obviously, consumerism is a far cry from the revolutionary ideas of the real Jesus Christ. Start preaching a message of peace, self-sacrifice, genuine economic sharing, freedom of conscious, and care for the oppressed and I bet you would get a much stronger reaction from the power structures in Communist China.

      Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3
      • James says:

        Maybe, but such a message would have no connection with anything the Christian Church has preached since, oh, about AD 35 or so.

        Thumb up 3 Thumb down 3
  3. Brandon says:

    You’re equating Santa, elves and Rudolph with Christianity?

    Were there any nativity scenes?

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 2
    • Kip says:

      Also, were any of the songs hymns? (O Holy Night, What Child Is This, Away In A Manger, etc.) Or were they all secular songs?

      Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0
  4. Pedro Albuquerque says:

    Well, this is not surprising at all. Last time I went there I heard Christmas carols in a hypermarket. Problem is, it was July.

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0
  5. Robyn Goldstein says:

    I can understand why the Chinese might be quick to adopt Christmas. As I once wrote in the 1980’s , “it was the Judaic element in Christian thought i.e., the concept of G-d as “on high and lifted up … who from Mount Sinai delivered his commandments” to Moses that yielded a fundamental problem for thought during the Middle Ages and for science thereafter. The problem was then that if G-d inhabits a realm that is different from the one inhabited by man and nature, then along what road is G-d to be found? The way in which this problem was solved was described in a paper written to complete one of the course requirements for a course with a well known Political Scientist by the name of Rustow. Now I would not be surprised if he published my results and gave me credit i.e., sort of. In any case, are not the Chinese seeking to deal with this problem now. The Chinese, as it seems, were long ahead of the curve. But what they had to go through to get there is not something we would want to repeat, nor would they. And there is no guarantee that we won’t. Hence, the real true value of a mutual orientation of our activities. The republican party has yet to grasp the real significance of this bit of knowledge. It is as if the party leaders are still back in the Dark Ages. But they are not. The thing is, once you use some scientific knowledge to achieve an objective (no matter what the objective including the use of the mass media and thus the results of the application of Physics to sell an idea), you have no choice but to concur that science is Social. And I can and have proven it and it is already copyrighted 2003.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  6. Gervase Markham says:

    Rudolph and Santa have about as much to do with Christian Christmas as The Easter Bunny has to do with Christian Easter.

    If you are interested in reading about how Christians are actually faring in China, see here:

    The situation is not dire (like in Syria or North Korea) but it’s not great either.


    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
  7. James says:

    In fact Christmas, the name most give to our celebration of the winter solstice, existed long before Christianity. Many of the customs also come from the pagan tradition. Calling the celebration “Christmas” was a blatant piece of propaganda used by the early Church in its attempts to supplant other religions.

    It’s also a falsehood, since internal evidence in the New Testament quite firmly places Jesus’ birth in the early spring, during lambing time, as that’s the only time of year when shepherds would be out watching their flocks at night.

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0
    • tung bo says:

      Which goes to show that agricultural / seasonal pattern that have been ingrained into human cultures for tens of thousands of years will persist longer than religious patterns which have been around for only a few thousand years.

      As for Christians in China, I can report sightings of Chinese evangelicals proselytizing in the public parks and they are not molested in the least. Though much like NYC, the public tend to detour around them when possible…

      Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0
    • Enter your name... says:

      Are predators and thieves also a springtime-only phenomenon? I would have thought that protection was a year-round task.

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  8. Sebastian says:

    Dont you believe that Christmas in China is simply ultra-capitalistic “TGIC”? That it has no bearing in christian values what so ever?

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
    • MW says:

      Discordant for another reason is when in Auckland, New Zealand (where I live) shops at Christmas time use artificial snow (from a spray can) to make it look like their windows are rimmed with snow.

      This is a city where snow is perhaps a once in a century event. And they’re doing it in summer.

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0