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