A Foreigner’s Christmas in China: Part 1

Since I’m on a roll with my blog postings, I’m posting the following 3-part series which appeared in my local newspaper in December, 2019.  This will answer many of your questions concerning my time in China.

Part 1:  “There is no Christmas in China.”

Note:  Connie Wieck is a Marshall, Illinois native, has been teaching English in China at the college level for 23 years.  Her sponsoring agency in China is the Amity Foundation, a Chinese Christian-founded social-service organization whose headquarters are located in the city of Nanjing. Amity promotes projects in China, and also abroad, which focus on social development and public welfare for those in need.  Amity also helps with outreach projects initiated by Chinese Christians and Chinese churches within the country. To learn more, go to: amityfoundation.org.

“There is no Christmas in China.”

This is what many believe who don’t live here.

That statement was somewhat true in 1991, which was my first year as a college English teacher in this Asian country. Only the Chinese Christians remembered this religious day and celebrated it in their church services.  Even today, with less than 1% of the population being Christians, one would think the same holds true.

But over the years, with more access to the outside world through the Internet and social media, Christmas has now become a popular foreigners’ tradition which the Chinese enjoy taking part in.

Taobao (China’s equivalent of Amazon.com) has Christmas decorations of all sorts for sale at rock-bottom prices. Shopping malls across the country explode with Christmas trees and tinsel roping.  Check-out sales personnel don Santa hats or reindeer antlers. Familiar carols (Jingle Bells, Silent Night, Santa Claus is Coming to Town) play in both English and Chinese over shopping center loud speakers. Holiday greetings in Chinese and English are stenciled on business district windows. Grocery stores set aside special areas with Christmas items for sale. (Walmart, which just recently arrived in my city, has really gone to town on that one!) Mom-and-pop alleyway shops haul out ornaments, Christmas trees, holiday posters, and Claus costumes for dress-up.

Yes, Christmas commercialism has hit big time in China.

Alleyway mom-and-pop stores offer all sorts of cool decorations to buy at affordable prices.

Even Christmas Eve has taken on an odd, commercialized phenomenon.

December 24th is known in China as Peace Night (平安夜, Ping-ahn Ye). Along main shopping streets or even in the stores themselves, you will see numerous people selling individually boxed or wrapped apples. Most of the Chinese think this is a Western custom: to give apples on Christmas Eve. I am often inundated by these from my Chinese students and friends who present their  apples to me as soon as they see me on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

Many Chinese have no idea this is not a custom in my country but originated in China, most likely by some very clever fruit seller who had a brilliant idea: The word for apple in Chinese is “ping guo”. The word for peace in Chinese is “ping ahn.” Both share the same “ping” sound so why not sell the apple on Peace Night as a symbol of peace?

Viola! That one caught on like wildfire.

It has now become the gift to give to all your Chinese besties: classmates, boyfriends, girlfriends, relatives, co-workers, and even bosses, government leaders, favorite teachers or school administrators. That definitely includes me, the foreign language teacher.

Some of my college’s business majors take this money-making opportunity to heart by setting up booths strategically at the college’s school gate. They prepare their wares carefully by intricately wrapping apples in colorful paper. These are sold to their classmates for 5 yuan (roughly 75 cents) each. They make a killing, especially as my college has a population of 10,000 students, all of whom enjoy giving their wishes of peace to one another through such “ping guo” (apple) offerings.

A seller on the streets of Luzhou, December 24th, with her wrapped apples awaits passersby to purchase her wares.

Children at our English Association’s Christmas Activity Night (open to our college students, teachers and their families) show their wrapped apples which they will give as gifts to friends or relatives.

Nor is Christmas Eve limited to apples.

Peace Night has now become somewhat of an American Black Friday, with Christmas Day signaling the countdown to Chinese New Year (what is known here as Spring Festival), this year celebrated on January 25. Major Internet shopping networks offer special Peace Night and Christmas Day low prices. Stores everywhere begin to mark down items on the 24th and 25th, giving huge discounts and staying open later than usual to attract customers. Restaurants in my city of Luzhou cash in as well, giving Peace Night and Christmas Day bargain lunch and dinner sets for shoppers.

Although Christmas Eve and Christmas Day may not be quite as overly hectic as it is in America, I will say the arrival of these two does make this city of 5 million bustle a bit more than usual.

Even my campus’ student supermarket put up a lone Christmas tree for 3 days to celebrate December 25th.

(To be Continued)

About connieinchina

I have been in the Asia region for 30 years as an English language teacher. 28 of those have been spent with the Amity Foundation, a Chinese NGO that works in all areas of development for the Chinese people. Amity teachers are placed at small colleges throughout China as instructors of English language majors in the education field. In other words, my students will one day be English teachers themselves in their small villages or towns once they graduate. Currently, this is my 13th year in Luzhou Vocational and Technical College. The college is located in Luzhou city (loo-joe), Sichuan Province, a metropolis of 5 million people located next to the Yangtze River .
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