3 Ways To Do Christmas, Chinese Style

Christmas is coming! If you’d like to do Christmas like the Chinese do, here are three ideas for the holidays:

(Photo by Tom Gill via https://www.flickr.com/photos/lapstrake/2899950676/)
(Photo by Tom Gill via https://www.flickr.com/photos/lapstrake/2899950676/)

#1: Eat apples on Christmas Eve

“Isn’t it true you eat apples on Christmas Eve?”

When my sister-in-law asked me this, I remember thinking, huh? Where did she get this idea?

Well, it’s not hard to imagine why Chinese would have this idea. After all, the Chinese for Christmas Eve – Ping’an Ye (平安夜) – has the character ping (平) in it, which means peace. That sounds just like the ping in the Chinese word for apples (pingguo,苹果).

Last Christmas, I actually saw women selling “Christmas Eve” apples on the street. They promised every buyer a peaceful new year with the fruit.

Truth or fiction? While I doubt an apple on Christmas Eve will keep all the bad luck away, who doesn’t love a little fresh fruit for the holidays? What the heck, why not apples?

And if there’s peace in the end, bonus.

i3o2sx7d4736#2: Make it romantic

In China, when Christmas is coming, it’s time to turn on the romance. As I wrote a few years ago:

I’ll never forget one Christmas Eve when I stepped out onto Huaihai Road, Shanghai’s equivalent of Fifth Avenue, and right into a sea of twentysomething and thirtysomething couples, strolling hand-in-hand under strings of soft white led Christmas lights up and down the street. There were so many young people in love all around me, I almost felt like I walked onto a set-in-China romantic holiday movie.

It’s not as if Christmas isn’t romantic in the US, where I grew up. After all, Christmas remains the most popular time for wedding proposals, and often a season when many will surprise their loved ones with “a little sparkle” of jewelry under the tree. Plus, there’s at least one romantic holiday movie every year that squeezes in among all of the Santa Claus and elves at the movies (and often far more made-for-TV romantic movies — yes, Lifetime, I’m thinking of you).

But perhaps all that Christmas romance gets lost behind the Santa Claus and the Christmas story and Christmas Eve at your grandma’s and all of your other holiday and family traditions. I don’t know about you, but in my mind, I still think of family when I think of Christmas, and no amount of romantic movies and “buy your engagement ring” commercials could ever change that.

In China, the story changes. Christmas loses much of the holiday baggage and traditions we know because, well, it’s not traditionally in Chinese culture. At the same time, more young people tend to celebrate, instead of the cross-generational celebrations I remembered growing up. Maybe it’s just inevitable that, when you strip away the traditional meanings of the holiday and populate it with young people, romance is what you get.

In China, a romantic Christmas night out might include dinner for two at a cozy little restaurant. Or walking down the city streets, enjoying the Christmas lights and the crowds. Or even, if you’re lucky, a Christmas proposal. 😉

IMG_1824#3: Enjoy some traditional Chinese Winter Solstice Foods

The closest holiday to Christmas in China is the Winter Solstice. In the north, people ring in the holiday with dumplings (jiaozi). In the south, people eat tangyuan or similar foods (such as the sesame balls or maqiu my mother-in-law prepares). If you want to add some Chinese traditions to your Christmas, why not serve a traditional solstice food during your holiday dinner? Here’s a super-easy recipe for my mother-in-law’s homemade sesame balls.

Wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas!

What are your plans for the holidays?img_20161217_202428

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9 thoughts on “3 Ways To Do Christmas, Chinese Style

  • December 22, 2016 at 10:21 am

    Apples on Christmas Eve? Why not? 🙂

    Wishing you and John the happiest holiday season ever! I hope 201 7 is everything you want it to be plus more.

  • December 22, 2016 at 4:28 pm

    Christmas is translated literally as ” Birthday of A Sage”, Chinese people do not care about who the heck Christ is. But in China, only two persons and one monkey can be qualified for the title, one is Confucious (who represents men of letters), the other is Guan Yu (who represents muscle men or warrirors. The monkey is Sun Wukong, his title is given by himself Great Sage Equalling Heaven. However, China has the largest crowd in the world in celebration of the holiday which might have nothing to do with them otherwise. Sounds like a big joke.

  • December 22, 2016 at 10:09 pm

    I think apples would go way better with Christmas than the traditional “orange in your Christmas stocking.”

    Because oranges leak and next thing you know, all your stocking stuffer goodies smell like an orange juice processing plant in Florida.

    I’ve seen a lot of Instagram posts from Japan with wrapped up apples for Christmas Eve, too.

    • December 23, 2016 at 12:35 pm

      There are also wrapped Christmas apples here, Autumn. Also apples with characters on them (I guess they are done by putting stickers on them while they are still in the tree). They are a rip off, though. I have seen “Christmas apples” sold for 40 RMB (one apple)… when one normal apple in a fruit shop costs maybe 2…

      • December 25, 2016 at 4:13 am

        Huh. Stickers on apples while they are growing sounds unsanitary!

  • December 23, 2016 at 4:45 pm

    Oh, I forgot to mention another sage in China’s modern history, that is, our great leader Mao Zedong. He is known as the Savior as in the song of East Is Red. And if you know his birthday falls on Dec 26, you have to agree that he is the true Jesus Christ considering there is time difference. The Dec 25 in the West is exactly the Dec 26 in China. Yet it is so weird that while so many are crazy about the Christmas, nobody throws a party for this great leader from the bottom of their hearts. Mao is a legend due to another fact, that he named his body guard troop Army No. 8341, which later proved to an indication or a coincidence because he died at the age of 83 and was in power for 41 years. In that sense, he is the real deity or God.

    • January 3, 2017 at 3:58 pm


  • December 23, 2016 at 8:10 pm

    Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you and Jung. Hope we have success, happiness and abundance in 2017.

  • January 8, 2017 at 5:04 pm

    I simply state a fact. It doesn’t necessarily mean I stand by his side. Another thing is for you, that here is the international domain, please use English, to show your respect to yourself and others, and that history is not possible to be represented, whatever you see or read is only something or nothing of the real history.
    Each week you kill at least billions of your future would-be sons and daughters in your high enjoyment of sex (wanking), should we bring you to hell for that?


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