What Do They Eat for Christmas in China? Exploring the Unique Blend of Traditional and Modern Celebrations

China, with its rich cultural tapestry, has witnessed a fascinating evolution in the celebration of Christmas. While historically not a part of traditional Chinese festivities, Christmas has found its way into the hearts of many Chinese people, becoming a cherished occasion. This article delves into the distinctive ways in which Christmas is observed in China, exploring the growing popularity of this festive season and teasing out unique traditions and foods that have emerged, especially in bustling metropolises like Hong Kong and Shanghai.

Christmas in China is marked by a harmonious blend of Western customs and traditional Chinese elements. The celebration, though not deeply rooted in Chinese culture, has gained widespread popularity in urban areas. Cities come alive with dazzling decorations, festive lights, and the contagious spirit of Christmas. The allure of the holiday season has captivated the younger generation, making Christmas a prominent and eagerly anticipated event on the Chinese calendar.

Christmas in China
Christmas in China

Emerging Popularity Among Chinese People

In recent years, Christmas has become more than just a foreign observance; it has evolved into a universal celebration embraced by many Chinese people. The younger demographic, in particular, has enthusiastically adopted the festivities, seeing Christmas as an opportunity for joy, gift-giving, and merry gatherings. The rise of Christmas-themed events, promotions, and decorations in malls and public spaces across China reflects the growing acceptance and integration of this Western celebration into the local culture.

Christmas Tradition in China

In recent decades, Christmas has blossomed into a festive season particularly in urban areas such as Shanghai and Beijing. This transformation is a testament to China’s increasing global integration and the influence of Western culture. Christmas in these cities is not about religious celebration but is seen more as a cultural event. Malls are bedecked with Christmas trees, lights, and decorations, and there are sales and events that create a buzz similar to what is seen in Western countries during the holiday season.

Despite its popularity, it’s important to note that Christmas is not an official public holiday in mainland China. This means that the usual hustle and bustle of daily life continues, with schools and businesses remaining open. However, this doesn’t dampen the festive spirit as many people, especially in urban centers, embrace the season with enthusiasm and joy.

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Christmas Eve in China

Christmas Eve holds a special place in the hearts of many Chinese, particularly among young couples, who have embraced it in a manner akin to Valentine’s Day. It’s a night of romance, charm, and celebration. Restaurants offer special dinners, and streets are filled with couples enjoying the festive lights and decorations.

A unique tradition that has emerged is the giving of apples on Christmas Eve. These apples are often wrapped in colorful paper and sometimes bear messages of good wishes. The word for apple in Mandarin, “ping guo”, sounds similar to the word for peace, hence symbolizing wishes for a safe and peaceful year ahead. This custom showcases how traditional Chinese symbolism merges with imported festive customs to create a new, hybrid form of celebration.

Chinese Christmas Decorations

In major cities like Hong Kong and Shanghai, the adoption of Christmas decorations is impressive. Malls, hotels, and public spaces are lavishly decorated with glittering lights and ornate Christmas trees. However, these decorations often feature a distinctive blend of Eastern and Western aesthetics. Alongside the traditional Western-style Christmas trees and lights, you might find Chinese lanterns or decorations featuring red and gold colors, symbolizing luck and prosperity in Chinese culture.

The decorations are not just a nod to the festive season but also a reflection of China’s growing global cultural influence. They signify a willingness to partake in global celebrations while still retaining a strong sense of national identity and cultural heritage. This blend of traditional Chinese elements with Western-style decorations exemplifies the country’s unique approach to Christmas – a fusion of the old and the new, the East and the West, creating a uniquely Chinese Christmas atmosphere.

What Do They Eat for Christmas in China?

Chinese Christmas Food

In China, the celebration of Christmas is not only marked by festive decorations and lively activities but also by a delectable array of special dishes. The culinary landscape during Christmas reflects a unique fusion of Western and Chinese flavors, showcasing the diverse gastronomic culture of the country.

Overview of Typical Christmas Foods in Urban and Rural Areas

Christmas feasts in China vary across regions, with urban and rural areas offering different culinary experiences. In urban centers like BeijingShanghai, and Guangzhou, there is a growing trend of adopting Western-style Christmas dinners. These may include roast turkey, ham, and an assortment of international dishes. In contrast, rural areas often maintain a more traditional approach, with local specialties taking center stage.

The Growing Popularity of Western-Style Christmas Dinner in Cities and Traditional Chinese Dishes

The influence of Western culture on Christmas celebrations extends to the dinner table. Many urban Chinese families now incorporate Western dishes into their Christmas meals, creating a unique blend of culinary traditions. Alongside the international fare, traditional Chinese dishes such as Peking duck or dim sum might make an appearance, showcasing the adaptability of Chinese culinary practices.

Tradition to Eat on Christmas

In China, where food holds profound cultural significance, eating during festivals like Christmas is a tradition that brings families and friends together. The act of sharing a meal symbolizes unity, prosperity, and the joy of being together. This tradition transcends regional differences, creating a common thread in the celebration of Christmas across the country.

The Significance of Food in Chinese Culture, Especially During Festivals and Celebrations Like Christmas

Food plays a central role in Chinese culture, often acting as a conduit for expressing love and care. During Christmas, families gather to prepare and enjoy a feast that includes a mix of traditional and modern dishes. This communal dining experience reflects the essence of Chinese festivals, emphasizing the importance of shared moments around the table.

Traditional Chinese Dishes Versus Western Christmas Feasts in Urban Areas

While the adoption of Western-style Christmas dinners is on the rise, many urban Chinese households still honor their cultural roots by including traditional dishes in the festive spread. This harmonious coexistence of Eastern and Western culinary traditions mirrors the broader cultural amalgamation seen in contemporary China.

Apple on Christmas Eve

One charming and unique Christmas tradition in China is the exchange of apples on Christmas Eve. The act of giving apples wrapped in colorful paper is a gesture laden with symbolism. The word for apple in Mandarin, “ping guo,” sounds similar to the word for peace, reflecting a wish for a safe and peaceful year ahead. This tradition beautifully illustrates the synthesis of Western customs, such as gift-giving, with traditional Chinese values, creating a heartwarming and culturally rich Christmas experience in China.

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Celebrate Christmas Like…

Santa Claus in China

In China, the enchanting figure of Santa Claus takes on a distinctive form, seamlessly blending Western charm with unique Chinese flair. This adaptation of the jolly gift-giver has become a symbol of the festive season, especially in major cities where the holiday spirit permeates shopping malls and public spaces.

The Chinese Version of Santa Claus, Often Seen in Shopping Malls in Major Cities

Chinese Santa Claus, often referred to as “Sheng Dan Lao Ren,” is a merry and benevolent figure that mirrors the Western Santa but with cultural nuances. During the Christmas season, you’ll find these Chinese Santas adorning shopping malls, spreading joy and festive cheer. Dressed in the familiar red suit and sporting a long white beard, they create a visual spectacle that resonates with both children and adults alike.

The Adaptation of Western Santa Claus with Unique Chinese Flair

What sets the Chinese Santa apart is the incorporation of local elements. Some Chinese Santas might be depicted wearing traditional Chinese clothing or accessories, adding a touch of cultural diversity to the festive icon. This adaptation reflects the harmonious integration of Western traditions with Chinese customs, contributing to the unique and diverse celebration of Christmas in China.

Things About Christmas in China

Interesting Facts About Christmas Celebrations in China

Christmas in China is not just a mirror image of Western celebrations; it has evolved into a distinctive cultural phenomenon with its own set of practices and perceptions. For many Chinese people, Christmas is more like a lighthearted day marked by festivities, gift-giving, and a vibrant atmosphere. It serves as an occasion for joyous gatherings, and the emphasis is often on the joy of giving and receiving rather than religious observance.

The Growth of Christmas Celebrations in Urban Areas, Contrasting with Traditional Festival Celebrations in Rural Areas

While urban areas like Shanghai and Beijing have embraced Christmas as a mainstream celebration, rural areas maintain traditional festival celebrations. In cities, Christmas has become a part of the modern cultural landscape, with decorations, events, and festivities shaping the urban experience. This urban-rural contrast reflects the dynamic cultural shifts occurring in China, where the celebration of Christmas adapts to the unique characteristics of different regions.

Chinese Santa Claus Plays the Saxophone

One delightful and culturally rich twist on the Western tradition of Santa Claus is the incorporation of musical elements. In some instances, Chinese Santa Clauses are known to play musical instruments, with the saxophone being a popular choice. This adds a touch of local flavor to the festive season, showcasing China’s unique cultural integration and its ability to infuse familiar traditions with a distinctively Chinese twist.

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Quick Tips

Celebrating Christmas in China can be an exhilarating and unique experience, especially for those accustomed to more traditional Western-style festivities. Here are some quick tips to fully immerse yourself in the Chinese Christmas spirit, whether you’re a tourist or a local looking to explore new traditions.

  1. Visit Christmas Markets: Many cities in China host Christmas markets, which are perfect for soaking up the festive atmosphere. These markets often blend Western and Eastern influences and are a great place to find holiday gifts, decorations, and snacks. Look out for markets in metropolitan areas like Beijing and Shanghai for a truly festive experience.
  2. Try Local Christmas Foods: While in China, don’t miss out on the unique Christmas foods. From the peace apples of Christmas Eve to fusion dishes in restaurants, there’s a lot to explore. If you’re in urban areas, you might find Western-style Christmas dinners, but make sure to try local specialties like Peking duck or dim sum as part of your festive feast.
  3. Enjoy the Festive Atmosphere in Major Cities: Cities like Hong Kong and Shanghai are known for their spectacular Christmas decorations and lights. Stroll through the streets to enjoy the dazzling displays, visit shopping malls decked out in festive decor, and don’t miss the chance to see the local version of Santa Claus, often found in major shopping centers.
  4. Attend Christmas Events: Keep an eye out for Christmas concerts, parties, and other events, especially in larger cities. These events can range from traditional Chinese performances to Western-style Christmas concerts.
  5. Explore the Blend of Cultures: One of the unique aspects of Christmas in China is the blend of Eastern and Western traditions. Take the time to observe and appreciate how Christmas is celebrated differently here, from decorations to the way people exchange gifts.
  6. Respect Local Traditions: While Christmas is becoming more popular in China, it’s essential to remember that it’s not a traditional festival here. Be respectful of local customs and traditions, especially when visiting less urbanized areas.
  7. Learn a Few Phrases in Mandarin: If you’re a tourist, learning a few festive phrases in Mandarin can enhance your experience and help you connect with locals. Phrases like “Sheng Dan Kuai Le” (Merry Christmas) and “Xin Nian Kuai Le” (Happy New Year) can be particularly useful.
  8. Document Your Experiences: Don’t forget to take photos and notes on your unique Christmas experience in China. Whether it’s the food, the decorations, or the general atmosphere, there’s a lot that’s worth capturing for memories.


The celebration of Christmas in China, with its unique customs and evolving traditions, often raises many questions. Here’s a concise FAQ to address common curiosities and clarify misconceptions about how Christmas is celebrated in this culturally rich country.

How Do Chinese People Celebrate Christmas?

Urban Celebrations: In major cities like Shanghai and Hong Kong, Christmas is marked with festive decorations, lights, and shopping promotions. While it’s more commercial than religious, there’s a growing enthusiasm for Christmas parties and gift-giving.

Rural Observance: In rural areas, Christmas is less prominent, and traditional Chinese festivals play a more significant role. However, some people might partake in low-key celebrations, influenced by Western media.

What Do Chinese People Eat at Christmas?

Urban Areas: In cities, you’ll find a mix of Western-style Christmas dinners, especially in international hotels and restaurants. Options like turkey, Christmas pudding, and log cakes are available.

Traditional Foods: More commonly, people enjoy traditional Chinese dishes during this time, like Peking duck, dumplings, or seafood, depending on the region.

What is the Significance of the Apple on Christmas Eve?

The apple on Christmas Eve, known as “Ping’an Ye” (peaceful night), symbolizes safety and good health. It’s a play on words since “apple” in Mandarin sounds like “peace”. This tradition involves giving apples wrapped in colorful paper, sometimes adorned with messages or images.

Are There Misconceptions About Christmas Celebrations in China?

Not a Religious Festival: Unlike in the West, Christmas in China is predominantly a cultural and commercial celebration, not a religious one.

Valentine’s Day Resemblance: In urban areas, especially among young couples, Christmas Eve has a resemblance to Valentine’s Day, emphasizing romance rather than the traditional Christian message.

How Does Christmas Relate to Traditional Chinese Culture?

While not part of traditional Chinese culture, Christmas has been adapted to fit into the modern Chinese lifestyle, especially in urban areas. It reflects China’s openness to global influences while maintaining its cultural identity.


Christmas in China presents a fascinating blend of traditional and Western influences. It’s a testament to the country’s dynamic culture and its ability to adapt and reshape foreign festivals within its own context. While Christmas is celebrated with much enthusiasm, especially in urban centers, it is markedly different from Western traditions. The festival’s increasing popularity among the Chinese population highlights the evolving nature of this festive season in China.

From the commercial vibrancy in cities to the more subdued observance in rural areas, from traditional Chinese dishes to the peculiar tradition of giving apples on Christmas Eve, Christmas in China is a unique phenomenon. It’s a celebration that not only brings joy and festivity but also showcases the harmonious blend of diverse cultural practices. As China continues to embrace and reinterpret Christmas, this festival is likely to evolve further, enriching the cultural tapestry of the nation.

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