Saturday, November 24, 2012

Christmas Around the World: China

Merry ChrisHtmas... Chinese Style!

I am SO excited to be a part of the Christmas Around the World Series today!
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You may know that the Chinese do not celebrate Christmas.  However, that does not mean that Christmas is non-existent here.  More and more signs of the holiday are making their way into China.  Our family moved to China in the summer of 2011 from the US/Canada.  We came here really not knowing what to expect, or how our family traditions would change over the next few years.  "Does Santa stop in China?  Will we still celebrate Christmas?" I remember my children asking me.  "Of course he does, and of course we will!" was my response.  So this is what Christmas is like in one country that doesn't actually celebrate the holiday!

It is possible to find Christmas odds and ends in the Chinese markets (as we have found in Beijing)...

...the malls in the cities will decorate with Christmas trees...

...and holiday window decals...

...and some stores will even have clerks dressed for the occasion!

Considering I only brought a small collection of our holiday decorations with us to China, I was THRILLED to find a nice supply of things at the IKEA near our home!  I even found Christmas wrapping paper!

Outside, you'll see the occasional Christmas tree and holiday lights.  Our apartment complex had decorated trees at each entrance last year.  Many trees, like the one below, look as though the people putting them up had no idea how to go about decorating them!

Like most of the Christmas decorations, they are put up a month or so before Christmas.  It seems no one is ever to eager to take them down.  It is not unusual to see a "Merry Christmas" sign here and there several months after Christmas!

The children participate in Christmas concerts and programs through the international school they attend...

...the international hotels decorate with some beautifully lit trees...

...and it IS possible to find some of Santa's helpers.
I say that, because we have yet to see one that plays a convincing Santa!

So why would the Chinese people stock Christmas items and decorate when they don't celebrate Christmas?  I had to ask that question myself.  One of my new Chinese friends told me that only the rich Chinese people celebrate Christmas.  In China, wealth is a symbol of your status in society.  If you have money, you want others to know about it!  Buy celebrating Christmas, you are showing those around you that you can afford to buy gifts for others that people with less money would not be able to.

What is more, the Chinese people love all things western (or English) - especially the younger, more hip Chinese generation.  They want to learn English, watch movies and TV shows from the US, wear clothing from western countries such as the US, and so on.  The more "western" you are, the "cooler" you are, and the higher your status is in society.  So it is considered "cool" to celebrate Christmas because that is a very "western" thing to do!

If you build it, they will come.  Right?  Are they marketing the idea of Christmas to the Chinese to encourage holiday spending like we have in the US?  My friend also tells me that this is why the Chinese malls are decorating for Christmas.  In China, the Chinese New Year is the most important holiday.  Gifts are exchanged, but in the form of money passed in special, red envelopes.  The Chinese people will shop for new clothing to be worn for the Chinese New Year, but they are not buying gifts and toys like we would for Christmas.  So selling the idea of Christmas to the Chinese is something that the business are hoping to profit from.

I have yet to meet a native Chinese family that celebrates Christmas.  When I asked my driver if he has any Chinese friends that celebrate Christmas, he told me "No."  Those that do celebrate Christmas will go out for dinner at a local pub with friends, but he says that only the younger generation will do this.  The Chinese celebrations are strongly related to enjoying specific foods and sharing meals together.  So, it does not surprise me that those who do celebrate Christmas do so in this way.  However, I am quite certain that the Chinese people who celebrate the holiday have no understanding of the origins or the meaning of this special day.

There are pockets of foreigners living in China, which I believe is the the last reason you will find hints of Christmas here.  My husband's company alone has 40 families in our community  We all celebrate Christmas.  Cities with a good population of foreigners will have stores happy to provide things they know they can sell!  

So Christmas isn't truly something you will find in China, but it is nice to see the decorations here and there.  Over-all, the thing that I really miss is the buzz of the holiday season.  The hussle and bustle of the stores, and all of the opportunities to enjoy and celebrate.  Because we don't really find that here in China, I have done my best to create that for my family.

So this is how WE celebrate Christmas in China!
I think that family traditions are especially important when you are celebrating the holidays.  Living in China, these traditions have so much more meaning for us.  They are what make this a special time for my children.  So is how we are celebrating Christmas in China, as American/Canadian Expats.

Decorating the Christmas Tree
We bought a tree and decorations in China, and just as do in the US, we put it up the weekend after Thanksgiving.  I didn't bring along a tree skirt, and wasn't able to find one here, so I had to make this one from scratch.  You can find a link to the tutorial HERE.  This year the children and I will also be making   decorations to add to our tree.

Advent Calendar
I brought along a wall-hanging advent calendar that I had made for my children several years ago.  Each year we count down the days to Christmas, beginning December 1st.  I fill each pocket with three little treats (usually chocolate) - one for each of my children.  This year, I will fill each pocket with a holiday activity instead of candy.

Elf on the Shelf
Jingle the Elf has been visiting our home for a number of years now.  He arrives on December 1st and stays until Christmas Eve when he travels back to the North Pole.  My children eagerly anticipate Jingle's arrival each year!  We will be making a special home for him to stay in while he is visits, and the kids are already drawing up their plans.  He gets into quite a bit of mischief, and the kids love searching for him each morning to see where he will be found, and what he has been up to.
The Elf on the Shelf makes a great addition to your family traditions!  You can order a kit that includes your elf and the story book from Amazon for just under $30 USD.  Online, you can find LOTS of others sharing this tradition and the antics of their elves.  HERE is a Pinterest board entirely dedicated to sharing Elf on the Shelf fun!

You've Been Elfed!
Last year we started a new family tradition of "Elf-ing" our friends.  To help spread some holiday magic, we put together baskets filled with goodies... homemade muffins, nice smelling candles, chocolates, and a baby tree to decorate.  We found THIS free Printable Elf Christmas Kit created by Maureen Anders HERE.  We are excited to continue with this tradition this year!

Cookie Exchange Party
I LOVE baking.  Christmas is a perfect time to share your favorite cookies.  I have been participating in cookie exchanges for a long time now.  At a cookie exchange, several friends gather, each bringing a plate full of their favorite holiday goodies.  These are shared so that each person goes home with a beautiful assortment for holiday cookies.  I recently shared a post on how to host your own SIMPLE Cookie Swap HERE.  After sharing some of the cookies with the kids, I tuck them in the freezer... ready to pull out when we have guests through the holidays.

Gingerbread Houses
What kid doesn't love decorating gingerbread houses?  This is something that I enjoyed as a child too.  I had a hard time hunting down the molasses I needed to make gingerbread last year, but I DID find it!  I baked the gingerbread... built the houses... and the kids each invited a friend to join them at a gingerbread house decorating party.

Gingerbread House 101
I found THIS fabulous tutorial on Whipperberry last year for creating gingerbread houses.  It includes a house template that I printed and laminated so I could use it over and over again.  If you plan on making gingerbread houses, this is a great resource!

Christmas Music & Movies
I am sure every family has their favorites!  One way to make sure it feels like Christmas when you live in China is to play your favorite Christmas carols and albums.  We also enjoy family movie nights where we will watch our favorite movies at this time each year.

Here are some of our family favorite holiday movies...

And these are our family's favorite Christmas albums:

Our Christmas Eve Party
Each Christmas Eve we host a Christmas party in our home.  Our friends and family join us for a Christmas dinner, some games, and Santa ALWAYS stops by with a little gift for all of the kids.

Virtual Christmas Fun
The internet allows us to keep these fun traditions going no matter where we are on the globe!

Santa sends the children a special e-mail each year, letting them know how they are doing.  Have they made his "nice" list?  My kids get a huge thrill out of these special video messages.  Visit the link above to request a special e-mail video for your child.

Each Christmas Eve we log onto the Norad Santa Tracker to see where Santa happens to be making his stops.  The kids love watching him move from place to place, and they get to see and learn a little bit about other places around the world at the same time.  The only problem with us living in China is that Santa stops here LONG before making it to most of the other places on the globe.  We had to hurry to bed so we did not miss him last year!

Nothing gets my kids laughing more than seeing their heads dancing around to a Christmas jingle, as elves!  JibJab will allow you to put the faces of your family members on elves to create a fun music video that you can send along to your family.  Or, if you are like us, have to watch over and over and over and over.  The kids love this!

Chinese Fireworks
Because we are in China, you can't have a celebration without a huge display of fireworks!  This is one of our new family traditions, since fireworks are easy to find here.  Each of these boxes contain several rockets.  Light the fuse on the corner of the box, and get out of the way!  You will have 25, 50 or even more rockets shoot out for your own show for as little as $25 USD.  It is the prefect way to top off your Christmas Eve party (especially when you can view them outside your windows on the 24th floor).

Snack for Santa and Rudolf
As we even did when I was a child, you can't forget to leave chocolate chip cookies and milk for Santa on Christmas Eve.  The children also like to leave a plate with some vegetables for Ruldolf.  We are always sure to make a batch of cookies for Santa!

And Santa Arrives!
Santa arrives after everyone is in bed in the wee hours of Christmas morning.  He leaves gifts under the tree... most for the children.  Inside the packages are typically gifts of toys, games, books, and clothing.

I have made special Christmas stockings for each of my children.  We leave these out for Santa on Christmas Eve, and when we wake Christmas morning, we find them filled with little gifts and Christmas candies.

Christmas morning is spent opening gifts and playing with all of the new games and toys the children have received.  We eat a late breakfast together, and enjoy our day together.  THIS you can do whether you are living in China or anywhere else in the world!

Even though Christmas isn't truly celebrated in China, we continue to make it a special time for our family.

Thanks so much for letting me share with you our family traditions!  Enjoy the rest of your travels to experience Christmas Around the World!

P.S.  Don't miss the FREE E-book and Christmas Around the World Passport shared at Living Life Intentionally!  Find the link below.

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  1. I love the pictures and getting a glimpse of what it is like in China this time of year! So interesting!! Thanks for sharing =-)

    I fixed your link!

  2. Thanks for sharing. I love reading about your reflections as an expat in China. Hope you have a fantastic Christmas:)

  3. Wow! What a great post! I had no idea they didn't celebrate Christmas in China - so interesting! I loved your pics (the IKEA one of the people sleeping was hilarious!) and what fun traditions you've continued with your kids while living in China! I love the idea of Elfing your friends! :)

  4. Wow, sounds so fun. Love all your traditions and loved reading about Christmas in China. Thanks for letting us into your fabulous Christmas :)

  5. We enjoyed your post of China. My son took the challenge and built The Great Wall of China out of LEGOS. Check it out at

    Have a Merry Christmas and thank you for sharing!

  6. Having studied and lived in China myself, I loved this-and the dudes asleep in Ikea cracked me up.

    They didn't have Ikea when I studied there (this was 2003)-I was in a smaller city, so they may have had it already in Beijing. I am not even sure where we found our Christmas tree. My roommate brought it home one day. She also sewed us stockings from red Chinese silk. It was one of my most favorite Christmases-I had a group of really good friends and we all went out of our way to make the Christmas special.

    We also had a party and invited our Chinese friends who totally ate it up. Your Santa pic made me laugh-I went back and visited a few years ago in December and my husband and I (we weren't even dating yet-haha) took a picture with a skinny Santa in McDonalds in Beijing. Good times.

  7. Thank you so much for your blog post about how you have Christmas in China! My daughter may be going there in May for work and I'm reading everything I can to learn more. We lived in the Netherlands and there was little fuss or decorations, so I could relate to your making your own traditions for the situation. Thanks again, Carolyn

  8. I enjoyed reading your post. Thank you so much for the link to Portable North Pole. My daughter will love this! I set it up for the free video and have added it to our Advent card for tomorrow!


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