It may surprise some in the West to learn that many people in officially atheist China also celebrate Christmas — a holiday with predominantly Christian origins. (We enunciate on ‘predominantly’ because it’s no secret the festival also has roots that pre-date Christianity, such as the pagan celebrations of Saturnalia in ancient Rome and the Yule festivities of pre-Christianized Germanic tribes.)
In recent years, media coverage of Christmas in China has primarily focused on the crackdowns on Yuletide celebrations, decorations, and imagery in some Chinese cities and counties.
In 2018, the BBC ran an article exploring the Chinese government’s crackdown on unsanctioned churches and Christian communities in the lead-up to Christmas. The same year, The Diplomat reported that Christmas decorations and celebrations had been banned in many Chinese cities to limit Western influences and promote traditional Chinese culture.
However, Christmas seems to have survived in China despite the scrutiny from authorities.
A Christmas display outside a Shanghai mall on December 23, 2021. Image by Matt Bossons
This year, malls (and even some schools!) in many first-tier Chinese cities have been adorned with Christmas trees, wreaths, and imagery of everyone’s favorite obese gift-giver in the lead-up to December 25. In some Shanghai shopping centers, Christmas decorations have actually been up since late November (a phenomenon North Americans are likely all too familiar with.)
To better educate foreign audiences on how people in China celebrate the holiday, the San Francisco-based 1990 Institute recently dropped a brilliant explainer video aptly titled “Christmas in China.”
The short video (embedded below) explores China’s relationship with Christmas from multiple angles, tackling the government’s crackdown on the holiday, Christmas consumerism in the country, and even introducing ‘the real Santa’s workshop,’ Yiwu city, where most of the world’s Christmas decorations are produced.
For those not in the know, the 1990 Institute is a non-profit organization that strives to improve mutual understanding and create a positive environment for US-China relations and Asian Americans. It aims to achieve its goals through educational programming and the mobilization of collaborative leadership networks.
The institute’s YouTube channel is loaded with tons of amazing China-related content, and we encourage curious minds to take a look.
From everyone at RADII and the 1990 Institute, have a wonderful holiday season, wherever you are!
Cover image: screengrab via YouTube
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