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When Father Christmas Moves to China

Christmas in China, except for the relatively small Christian community (only 85 Million people), is a recently imported celebration which is just slightly more important than Halloween, more or less matching the Western Valentine’s day. There are no days off for Christmas.

Christmas is most and foremost the theme of a sales period. It is key for businesses, be it online or offline, to have, during the year, a continuous stream of campaigns that follow one another. No calendar animation, no sales! 

After 11-11, which is the biggest sales festival and which is all about discount, comes thanksgiving (not a great theme, but it’s apparently the only one available at that time of the year), which is immediately followed by the Christmas season. No timeout. During the Christmas period, there is also another peak sales moment on 12-12. 

Therefore, Christmas is more about pine trees, sleighs and lights. Father Christmas (“the old Christmas man”) and his sisters (no elves, but sexy sisters instead). Lighting is also particularly important as this is a big thing in China. At night, lightings redesign the city streets; buildings are illuminated; LED advertisements are everywhere. Christmas adds another layer of glitter.

Christmas in China means business and decoration firstly, but isn’t it the same in the West? Hasn’t Christmas become just a toy and food bonanza? Aren’t we just fooling ourselves thinking it is more? Christmas is no more than a pagan celebration vaguely plugged to a religious one. Let’s face it, most people are more attracted by the pagan celebration!

Ok, Chinese kids may be missing the Father Christmas story, the magic followed by the disappointment and the discovery that adults are actually liars. But aren’t they getting all this at once through the mascot of the “old Christmas man” roaming the malls and playing saxophone (don’t ask me where this comes from) who they immediately detect as a fraud.

As everything coming to China, Christmas has also quickly been reinterpreted and localized. Christmas in China is not about Family, it is more about caring. On the 24th of December friends will go out together in the evening, couples will have a romantic dinner.

Since Christmas Eve is called “Ping’an Ye” in Chinese (平安夜), which translates into “peaceful night” (coming from the carol “Silent Night”) and that the name for peace sounds like “píngguǒ” (苹果) which means “apple”, it has become a tradition on Christmas eve to offer apples to the ones you care about. Chinese people have given a special name to these Christmas apples: ping’anguo (平安果), or ‘peace apples.’

These Apples come wrapped in pretty boxes and colorful paper, as is customs in China, and are decorated with ribbons, drawings and messages printed on them. “Peace apples” can cost usually much more than your average apple because it is not just the thought that counts, it is the price which tells “how much” you care.

Last thing, as a Chinese newspaper recently pointed out, kids’ letters to Finland should actually be redirected to China as this is where 70% of toys are built and almost 95% of all Christmas decorations.

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