China and Its Oh So Romantic Christmas

A Chinese couple poses before a Christmas tree
Christmas is oh so romantic. At least, that’s what my Chinese husband thinks of the holiday -- and I know he’s not alone. (image from

Christmas is oh so romantic. At least, that’s what my Chinese husband thinks of the holiday — and I know he’s not alone.

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 fact, all of the romance left me with a question — is this Christmas or another Valentine’s Day?

It’s hard not to compare when you see ads for Western-style dinners, dances and wine parties, each promising that “once-in-a-lifetime” evening of magic by candlelight at a table for two. Meanwhile, singletons in China now face the same Valentine’s Day depression we know all too well. One Chinese ad for a speed-dating type Christmas event in Jilin starts out by saying, “Christmas 2011 is coming and you’re still single?” while another article in Chinese asks the reader, “…who has ever thought of what Christmas is like for bachelors?” and then proceeds to introduce a song titled “Xmas? I don’t know such a thing!” (Maybe we shouldn’t remind these singles that Valentine’s Day will come in less than two months.)

Then again, I have to admit I’m feeling a little more romantic about Christmas this year. After all, I have my husband all to myself this Christmas Eve. I have visions of that night dancing through my head — and they have nothing to do with sugar plums. 😉

Merry Christmas!

Do you think Christmas is a romantic holiday?

16 Replies to “China and Its Oh So Romantic Christmas”

  1. Irony of ironies is that I have never celebrated December holidays with anyone outside my family. (My Korean ex’s b-day on 24th of December doesn’t really count.) My apologies but I’ve been feeling down because of the usual holidays and my life not going the way I want it to. I realized this year that I cannot stand December. Me being Jewish, I don’t think Christmas is a romantic holiday for me. I don’t mean to insult anyone, but Christmas for me is an annoying holiday. (My family doesn’t celebrate it; we celebrate New Years instead.) In fact I can’t wait until December 26th when Christmas will be over.

  2. I had this conversation with my Japanese sister in law last year. I was saying how Christmas is a family holiday for me and most people in know in UK/NZ, whereas she always saw it as the romantic type of holiday. She’s told me of similar scenes to yours of young couples strolling hand in hand under lights in Tokyo. I thought it was pretty neat but it’s always going to be a family time for me. I adore Christmas and love spending it with those who I care about the most.

    Sveta – hope things pick up for you soon and you have a fabulous new years 🙂

  3. Yes, Christmas. In China I am loving it. Don’t have to listen to the ads on TV (at least don’t fully understand them) also don’t have to be tempted by Christmas party chocolate or buffets… though I do miss snowboarding! I am planning traditional western style family dinner for my Chinese family! So excited for it! Catering a big turkey with all fixings (don’t have oven) have organized a big long table to seat 11 people, Christmas music, and just an evening to spend time together. I always reflect upon these as my favourite times in Canada when my mom cooks and so many friends and family come over to eat. Secretly I am really excited to be here for Spring Festival!

  4. I can understand Sveta’s view. I, too, am Jewish, and feel somewhat left out at this time of year, although my family always got together on Christmas because we all had the day off! When I was in China, Christmas was just getting off the ground. My ex bought me a Christmas-themed stuffed animal in Hong Kong our first winter together. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings, so didn’t tell him that 1) 24 year olds no longer collect stuffed animals, and 2) Didn’t he know Jews don’t celebrate Christmas?

    The second point never sunk in. When we moved to the States, he couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t want to hang Christmas lights outside or get a tree. No matter how often I told him that Christmas was a religious holiday–and one that I don’t celebrate–he kept pushing it. To him, and to his parents, who lived with us for a year, Christmas was through and through a secular American holiday. I know that most Americans would agree with that, but if I were Christian, I would be offended by the commercialism that has diminished its religious importance.

  5. Although I am not a Christian, Christmas always bring me a sense of joy, sharing, celebrating and remembering that we are all human beings. I like the Christmas songs esp Silent Night and Joy to The World. Although most Malaysians aren’t Christians, we do have Christian friends who celebrate the holiday and the shopping malls all compete to outdo each other in their Christmas decorations to attract customers. It is unfortunate that in China and elsewhere even here in Malaysia that they are trying to commercialize Christmas even to the extent of turning it into another valentine’s day! Would that the holiday remains a day for family and friends to remember that sharing is caring and not just for romance!

  6. Even though Christmas had a religious connotation for me when I was little (we even had the nativity set under the tree where we would add baby Jesus only on Christmas morning), my beliefs changed over the years and I now consider myself Atheist. Even though it’s not a religious thing for me, I still celebrate Christmas.

    This is the one time a year where most people are off work and where we can spend it together. It means time with the family and loved ones (and cooking/baking)! I can’t wait to see my parents, brothers, granparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins! Yes, I also get presents for everyone, but they are usually things I made myself (knitted scarf, bag of cookies/baked goodies, photo albums, paintings, etc.) or useful things like clothes or gift certificates. It’s just the type of thing I enjoy doing and this time of year gives me the chance to do so (it also puts a personal touch of the gifts without going overboard on the spending).

    I dislike the commercialization of it – who the heck buys a $1000 TV just because it’s for Christmas or you’re trying to outdo your neighbour?! I’d rather have a good time with my family and friends (and a great meal!) than going broke. It’s true it can also be romantic; how can it not with all these lights alight at night – and especially when you live in an area that gets snow? It’s cute how many parts of Asia think of it as a romantic holiday, but I wish it wasn’t so commercialized (not so cute).

  7. While I was growing up, I never really associated the holidays with religion. It was simply just a time to be with family. My husband, however, is a Christian. I gave my husband his very own decorated tree. We now have a tree every year. 🙂 I like the holidays even more now that I am celebrating with my husband. I am just thankful that he has time off so we can travel together. I do have Jewish friends who have decorated trees. It’s a personal choice, though. I live in a Jewish neighborhood and I do get goodies from my friends this time of year. 😀 Hanukkah starts tomorrow at sundown (writes it down). Excuse me, I will be baking goodies for loved ones. 😀

  8. Frankly, I do feel a little offended, not only because of the commercialization of Christmas (it happens everywhere), but also because a very important part of my culture is being turned into a caricature again (unintentionally, of course). Not only China has long history, impressive traditions and beautiful festivals (however, it seems like many of young Chinese already don’t know most of them). If I’m about to celebrate Chinese New Year/Moon Festival/any other festival with my Chinese family or friends, I’m trying to get some knowledge about it’s origin before. It would be nice if Chinese’d make this effort too.

  9. Happy holiday everyone!!! Hope you enjoy the time with family and friends.

    I kind of understand why Christmas means differently in China given China does not have a single religion and couples just take it an excuse to hang out. Honestly, I don’t feel offended by commercialization of Christmas even though I am Catholic. Commercializing holidays are part of economical life cycle especially for retail business. In current time, it is critical part of recovery efforts. I bought my family and friends gifts to enjoy the holiday and support the economy.
    Nowadays I use term “Happy Holiday” instead of “Merry Christmas” on my cards, since I have Jewish friends and some are orthodox.

    1. Thanks everyone for the comments!

      @Sveta, @Susan B-K, thank you for reminding me that Christmas isn’t the only holiday out there. I apologize if I have made you feel left out. I should have ended the post with “Happy Holidays” instead. (as @cvaguy has reminded me)

      @Sveta, you’re not the only one feeling down, as this has been an awful holiday season for John and I (the discrimination story still continues) so I feel for you.

      @Kathmeista, how interesting that Japan has a similar view of Christmas, thanks for sharing!

      @Susan B-K, I can imagine it must have been frustrating that your ex didn’t really understand Christmas and your perspective.

      @ordinarymalaysian, I’m glad that you find a certain joy and happiness during the holidays. Wishing you the best this season as well!

      @Natalie, that’s really cool that you make gifts for others this time of year. I’m with you on the commercialization.

      @Eileen, indeed, one of the best parts of this season is having that time off, and time to spend with your husband. I’m definitely grateful I have this time off to finally just have some fun with John and forget about the difficulties we’ve faced for a while.

      @Barbara, I can totally understand and respect your feeling offended by what Christmas has become.

      @cvaguy, thanks for the holiday wishes and your perspective, as there is another side to the commercial aspect of the holidays.

      Finally, I wish all of you Happy Holidays (as I should have in first place in my post).

  10. No worries! Your post was specifically about Christmas, as it should be. It’s getting to be such a huge holiday in China, and as we can all see, that brings out a ton of different feelings in all of us. I hope you and John have a very happy holiday season–including a very Merry Christmas!–and that 2012 brings much peace, cheer, happiness, and new adventures. Your friendship has made 2011 a fabulous year for me 🙂

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