Chinese Christmas is primarily a non-religious year-end celebration heavily influenced by the Chinese interest in Western culture. Since only a very small percentage of Chinese practice Christianity, Chinese Christmas is a relatively new phenomenon that came about with the advent of trade and interaction with western countries in the last part of the twentieth century. Chinese Christmas consists mainly of decorating, parties and gift-giving and takes place mainly in large cities.
Due to its long history of Communist rule, religious freedom, especially in practicing Christianity, is not promoted in China. Less than one percent of Chinese identify themselves as Christian, and these usually only do so in private. For this small population of Chinese a Chinese Christmas is a celebration of Christ's birth, but for the majority of the Chinese the holiday is an unofficial celebration centered around Western customs.
The concept of Christmas was first brought to China by Christian missionaries in the 1800s, but since organized religion is not widely accepted in China, the religion and its celebrations were slow to gain popularity. Even as late as the 1980s many Chinese cities showed no trace of Christmas festivities during the last months of the year. With the opening of China at the end of the twentieth century, while still somewhat limited, the interest in and popularity of western culture and lifestyle skyrocketed, making certain non-religious aspects of Westernized Christmas widespread in Chinese cities.
The most visible aspect of Chinese Christmas are the Christmas-themed decorations that appear in Chinese cities throughout the month of December. Popular Chinese Christmas decorations include lights, Chinese lanterns, and Christmas trees, all of which are commonly seen in shopping malls, retail stores, and office buildings. Chinese Christmas trees are similar to western Christmas trees, but are referred to as "trees of light" and are decorated with brightly colored ornaments, Chinese lanterns, and holly berries.
Another popular aspect of Chinese Christmas are large, elaborate gatherings of friends and family, often held in hotels and bars. While Western Christmas is often a family-oriented holiday, Chinese Christmas Day is centered around having a good time with friends and family.
Gifts and cards are an important part of Chinese Christmas that the Chinese use to cement bonds between family and friends. While some Chinese children do hang stockings to the Christmas Old Man (or Santa Claus), the majority of gift-giving occurs between loved ones.
While Chinese Christmas is not an official holiday throughout much of China, both Hong Kong and Macau have named December 25 as an official holiday. Hong Kong, a longtime territory of the United Kingdom, was only returned to China in 1997 and has maintained more freedoms, including a higher level of religious freedom, than other parts of China.
Macau was the first and last European colony China, governed by Portugal until 1999. Macau also enjoys greater religious freedom than other areas in China, with sizable populations of both Protestants and Roman Catholics. Since both of these areas were held for long periods by western, Christian countries, Chinese Christmas is a slightly more reverent, religious occasion in both areas.
Throughout the western world Christmas is the most celebrated holiday of the year, but Chinese Christmas in no way compares to the biggest holiday in China, Chinese New Year. Chinese New Year, unlike Chinese Christmas, has deep roots in Chinese culture and history and is celebrated throughout the country with unparalleled excitement and festivities.