Note: Before you read this, I’d like to add a few notes concerning the below entry. A friend sent me an article from the New York Times concerning the recent banning and “humbugging” of Christmas by certain provinces in the country. University students carrying banners for the public to dis foreign holidays, schools forbidding Christmas holiday decore (Santa hats, Christmas trees, flashing wands, etc), lectures being given to “return to your Chinese roots,” and so forth criss-crossed the country as December 25th approached. In Sichuan, just the opposite took place as Christmas exploded into 100% commercialism with the public having not a clue what the festival was about but enjoying their new-found shopping spree all the same. This just goes to prove, once again, that China is a very big country where what is true in one area is certainly not in another.
Streets packed with shoppers.
Malls crammed with buyers picking over advertised sale items
Sidewalk snack venders and discount clothes stalls overrun with the masses.
This was what greeted me fighting my way to the church on Christmas Eve at about 7 p.m.
Yes, it’s China cashing in on Christmas commercialism! While the Christian world prepared for a joyful evening of worship and ushering in Christ’s birth with solemn prayer, this country was busy holding midnight specials for millions of consumers eager to find a bargain.
Mixed in with the everyday goods were those considered special only for the foreigner’s holiday. Santa hats, flashing wands, colorful floral masks, confetti canisters, reindeer and devil horn headgear were being sold to children all along my route leading toward my final destination, the Luzhou Protestant Church. The little ones eagerly picked over the wares while parents pulled out their wallets to pay for these items which everyone believes is a part of the Christian celebration. Trying to convince them otherwise is a never-ending battle so I have stopped trying.
A New Holiday Emerges: 平安夜 Ping An Ye (Peace Night)
During the past 10 years, Christmas Eve has taken on the name Ping An Ye (平安夜,Peace Night), celebrated by Chinese of all ages. Very little of this invented name has to do with peace. It’s all about stocking up for the upcoming Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) while sending greetings to those you love or know with the gift of an apple packaged in a decorated cardboard box or enclosed in pretty wrapping paper.
How this commercialism business got started is beyond me but it has really exploded.
“Merry Christmas! Have an Apple.”
I find the Christmas Eve and Christmas Day apple offerings especially curious, although not quite as curious as you’d think.
In Chinese, the word for “apple” is ping guo (苹果); the word for “peace,” ping an (平安). The two “ping” characters are different but the sound is the same, thus the relationship between “apple” and “peace.” For Peace Night (Christmas Eve), an apple bestowed upon others brings them wishes of peace for the upcoming year.
Knowing the clever Chinese, my guess is that this apple gift-giving venture was an incredibly masterful idea, thought up by some brilliant business entrepreneur to make money. Since its first appearance in some Chinese city somewhere, it’s now caught on like wildfire and has spread throughout the entire country of 1.3 billion.
That’s why I am currently inundated with apples by students, faculty, friends and even my Chinese church members who thrust them into my hands before I left the church Christmas Eve.
One Last Party to Go
Before launching into my church Peace Night, including pictures, I’ll post this so as not delay any further on updates. I have one more gathering of Chinese friends to go in my Christmas Home and then two more days of final conversation testing before my school year finally ends before January 1st. Great way to end the year with the beginning of a long vacation! Can’t wait.
From along the Yangtze, here’s wishing you Ping An (Peace) for your week.