Despite the fact that Christmas is not an officially celebrated holiday in East Asia, you can definitely see its cultural influence on Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Celebrating Christmas is not part of Chinese tradition; however, many Chinese people seem to adore the Christmas spirit, especially the Christmas trees, lights and shopping for gifts.
In Taiwan, it is typical to see streets decorated in countless Christmas lights. In Mainland China, the popularity of Christmas has also been steadily growing. However, it is good to remember that most of Chinese do not celebrate it, especially in the rural areas, where Western and Christian influence is rather small. In bigger cities in China, on the other hand, Christmas has become an excellent commercial opportunity for department stores and other businesses. When you enter a Chinese shopping mall, it feels like being somewhere in the US or Europe: there are Christmas lights, Christmas music, as well as plenty of Christmas-related promotions and discounts. Hotels and similar businesses, even schools and universities may prepare their own Christmas trees and other decorations. Some people may even decorate their own homes. It becomes more and more popular to attend Christmas parties, where friends can celebrate together and even exchange gifts. Since it is not a traditional holiday in China, its celebration is very informal and usually preferred by young people. Some can celebrate it as a romantic holiday or see it as a good excuse to go to a karaoke bar with friends. In general, the urban part of China enjoys Christmas and endorses it as a modern, international holiday.
Many Chinese don’t realize the original religious character of Christmas and may not know the history behind it. For the great majority, this Western holiday has a pure commercial character. However, Chinese Christians, who aren’t many, celebrate it in a religious way. There are church services, Christmas carols and even drama performances.
If you are a Westerner in China, you will be expected to celebrate Christmas, and your Chinese friends will certainly mention it in December. In Mainland China, but also in Taiwan, the image of Christmas is heavily Americanized. It means that Christmas is usually associated with Santa Claus in his characteristic red attire and long white beard, baked turkey for the Christmas dinner, family shopping and loads of Christmas lights. No matter if this is how you celebrate Christmas or it looks totally different in your native country, it is good to know some basic Christmas vocabulary in Chinese.
Some of the most popular Christmas expressions are:
1. 圣诞节快乐/ 聖誕節快樂(Tw) [shèngdàn jié kuàilè] is the Chinese equivalent for “Merry Christmas”. 圣诞 means Christmas (more literally “holy birthday”), 节 means a festival, 快乐 is happy, joyful. It is the most popular Christmas-related word, and your Chinese friends will definitely say it to you during the holiday season. A more religious person may also say 耶诞节快乐/ 耶誕節快樂 [yēdàn jiékuàilè]; 耶诞 literally means the Birthday of Jesus (耶穌, Yēsū).
2. 圣诞老人/ 聖誕老人(Tw) [shèngdàn lǎorén] is the Chinese name for Santa Claus. It literally means “the Old Man of Christmas”, which is his literal description.
圣诞老人送礼物给孩子 [shèngdàn lǎorén sòng lǐwù gěi háizi]: Santa Claus gives presents to children.
3. 圣诞夜/ 聖誕夜(Tw) [shèngdàn yè]: Christmas Eve, which is the 24thof December. 夜 is “night”, so it literally means “Christmas Night”. Other name for it is 平安夜 [píng’ān yè], which literally translates to “Silent Night”.
你的国家怎么过圣诞夜？/ 你的國家怎麼過聖誕夜？(Tw) [nǐde guójiā zěnme guòshèngdàn yè]: How is Christmas Eve celebrated in your country? This is a question you are very likely to hear.
4. 圣诞树/ 聖誕樹(Tw) [shèngdàn shù] means Christmas tree.
装饰圣诞树 [zhuāngshì shèngdàn shù]: to decorate Christmas tree.
近代圣诞树起源于德国 [jìndài shèngdàn shù qǐyuányú déguó]: the modern Christmas tree originates from Germany.
5. 雪人 [xuěrén] is a snowman, also literally: 雪 means snow, meanwhile 人 is a person. If you spend your Christmas somewhere in the northern parts of China, you may actually have a chance for a traditional white Christmas.
堆雪人 [duīxuěrén]: to build a snowman. You can also say 做雪人 [zuòxuěrén].
6. 天使 [tiānshǐ] is an angel. You can also say 小天使 [xiǎo tiānshǐ], what means a little angel.
7. 姜饼/ 薑餅(Tw) [jiāngbǐng] means gingerbread. It is most likely not a Chinese word that you first get to know when talking about Christmas, which is why we wrote it here. In many countries, gingerbread is a symbol of Christmas, and you can also easily find them in China during the holiday season.
姜饼食谱 [jiāngbǐng shípǔ]: a gingerbread recipe.
Do you want to know some more useful Chinese vocabulary? Check out other articles on Maayot: