Christmas Traditions in China
The small number of Christians in China call Christmas Sheng Dan Jieh, which means Holy Birth Festival. They decorate their homes with evergreens, posters, and bright paper chains. The family puts up a Christmas tree, called "tree of light," and decorates it with beautiful lanterns, flowers, and red paper chains that symbolize happiness. They cut out red pagodas to paste on the windows, and they light their houses with paper lanterns, too.
Many Chinese enjoy the fun and color that Christmas brings to the drab winter season. Big cities like Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong are gaily decorated at Christmas.
Many people give parties on Christmas Eve, and some people enjoy a big Christmas dinner at a restaurant. Shops sell plastic trees and Christmas decorations for everyone to enjoy, and Santa Claus is a popular good-luck figure.
The Christmas season is ushered in with fireworks. Jugglers and acrobats entertain, and people enjoy the merriment and feasting. In Hong Kong, which recently was restored to Chinese rule, Christmas Day is just one of seventeen public holidays.
At this time of year, people in Hong Kong also celebrate Ta Chiu, a festival of peace and renewal, by making offerings to saints and reading the names of everyone who lives in the area.
On Christmas Eve, Christian children in China hang up their muslin stockings that are specially made so Dun Che Lao Ren, or "Christmas Old Man," can fill them with wonderful gifts. Santa Claus may also be called Lan Khoong-Khoong, "Nice Old Father."
The Chinese lunar New Year, or Spring Festival, begins in late January or early February. The celebration lasts for three days. While not part of Christmas, the New Year is the most important celebration of the year for the Chinese people. People travel long distances to be with their families. They decorate their homes with brightly colored banners. These banners carry messages of good wishes for the coming year.
Many people exchange gifts at the New Year. Following tradition, very expensive, special presents are given only to close family members. Token gifts are given to friends and distant relations. Children especially enjoy their gifts of new shoes and hats.
People put on new clothes for the New Year celebration. They prepare many special holiday dishes, and families come together at one house to enjoy them. The younger sons of the household serve dinner to the head of the household.
For the first celebration, on New Year's Day, people offer rice, vegetables, tea, and wine to heaven and earth. They burn incense and candles to pay tribute to their ancestors and to all living members of the family.
Chinese families turn out to watch the spectacular New Year's fireworks displays and the exciting lion dance. Several performers dance inside an enormous costume. They make the "lion" walk, slither, glide, leap, and crouch along the street as it leads a colorful procession.
The greatest spectacle takes place at the Feast of the Lanterns, when everyone lights at least one lantern for the occasion. Other special events of the New Year include the Festival of the Dragons and the Fisherman's Festival.
Throughout the three days of New Year's celebrations, everyone speaks only cheerful words to each other so they will have good luck in the coming year.