Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas in China

By Earon S. Davis, JD, MPH, NCTMB
Adjunct Professor, Health and Wellness Program,
School of Health Sciences, Kaplan University

(I teach HW210 - Complementary and Alternative Medicine,
which includes Chinese Medicine and holistic health and wellness philosophies and practices)

 Christmas decorations at the Guangzhou Holiday Inn
Note that the decorations were throughout the hotel, and also found in 
all other hotels with Western guests in several cities across China

 Christmas in a Guangzhou, China shopping district

Odd as it may seem, Christmas is a HUGE holiday in China.  I saw every bit as many Christmas decorations as in the US.  And this is not just in tourist areas.  There may be even more Christmas music heard at restaurants, hotels, malls and shops compared to the US.  Indeed, most of our US Christmas decorations are made in China, but it was amazing to see how many of them remain there!  The experience was the same in various parts of China (I visited Beijing, Guangzhou and Dalian), so I know that it is not just a localized phenomenon.  Many restaurants, especially upscale restaurants and those in tourist areas, are resplendent in Christmas decorations and the wait staff often wears red elf costumes, including hats.  Of course, the hats are may be more popular because restaurants are often more drafty in China than in the US.

But what does Christmas mean in China?  Christmas is primarily a commercial winter holiday.  Red being a most auspicious color in Chinese culture probably helped this tradition to be imported in the People's Republic of China.  It also helps that all things American, European and English are treated with interest in China.  English is literally a second language there, with street signs, building markers and advertisements generally provided with English translations.

Walking down the street in Guangzhou, I encountered two Chinese young adults handing out pamphlets promoting a business that helps Chinese students learn English.  It said "English perfects you.  The better your English, the better your life."  Indeed, English skills are promoted at all grade levels, often on a mandatory basis in China.  There are more and more college programs where the content courses are taught in English.  So, Christmas seems to fit right in, although not as a religious holiday (is it still considered a religious holiday in the US?)

China was not in need of a family holiday during the winter.  They already have their "Spring Festival" which includes the Chinese New Year in February.  During Spring Festival, people return to their families, generally with gifts.  Migrant workers in cities flock home to the countryside by the tens of millions, perhaps the largest calendar-driven migration on this planet.  But, entrepreneurs are always in need of more business, so the commercial aspects of Christmas are dominant in China, as well as the US.

One particular aspect of marketing Christmas in China has romantic overtones, something like our Valentine's Day, I've been told.  Romantic meals at a restaurant and treatments at spas are popular themes. The theme of "Red" may be particularly attractive to Chinese, who favor the color but tend to dress quite modestly both in tone and exposure.  Perhaps the red Santa hats are also fun to wear!


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