Thomas F. O'Neill
A question that many Americans ask me is 'do the Chinese celebrate Christmas in China?' The answer to that question is ‘Yes’ and ‘No.’ Christmas is not an official holiday here, so most offices, schools and shops remain open.
The Suzhou International Foreign Language School here in Suzhou, China (where I work as a teacher) gave all the foreign teachers Christmas day off. However, I enjoyed watching a Christmas show at our School on Christmas day. The students and teachers here sang Christmas songs and danced on stage.
When I came to China I noticed that in mid-November big department stores put up Christmas decorations with Christmas trees, and twinkling lights. It’s also not uncommon to see store clerks wearing Santa outfits with traditional Santa hats. You will also hear Christmas music throughout the shopping malls to put you in that festive Christmas mood of shopping. However, you will see very few homes with Christmas lights strung outside or candles in the windows.
On the other hand, most of the Malls, Banks, and restaurants have large Christmas displays, with a traditional Christmas tree all lit up. Waiters and waitresses in restaurants will often wait on you wearing Christmas outfits. I found that in many shopping Malls in China Children can have their picture taken with Santa and some department stores coordinate a home visit from a gift-bearing Santa.
Chinese children do not write notes to Santa requesting gifts, but many children do enjoy a visit with Santa. Like in western countries, there are shopping sprees in the weeks leading up to Christmas but the Christmas shopping sprees here are nowhere near as frenzied as in America.
There are also a growing number of people in China who enjoy celebrating Christmas Eve by eating a Christmas dinner with friends. Our School took out all the teachers in my department out for a Christmas Dinner at a restaurant on Christmas Eve. Many teachers performed at the restaurant by singing songs and dancing. I enjoyed singing the song, ‘Have yourself a merry little Christmas,’ during our Christmas Dinner.
Exchanging Christmas cards with close friends and family is becoming ever more popular in China as well. It’s not uncommon here to exchange small inexpensive gifts with friends and coworkers in the days leading up to Christmas.
There are over 100 million Christians in China but the majority of the Chinese that enjoy the Christmas festivities overlook the Christmas’s religious roots. But that being said there are still a sizable minority that head to church for a Christmas service on Christmas day.
Living here in Suzhou, China I can proudly say I didn’t participate in the mad frenzy of Black Friday like millions did in America and I suppose I never will.
I’m one of those people who simply enjoys the sharing and to give thanks for the special people in my life. That truly makes this time of year special for me especially here in Suzhou, China.
I surely have plenty to be thankful for because throughout my life people have gone out of their way to be kind to me and the people here in Suzhou are no exception.
I once told my students in class when you care for others you are cared for and when you love others you are loved. This special season of giving should reveal our love for one another through kindness because loving kindness gives this special season its true meaning.
I enjoyed playing Santa Claus at a local elementary School on Christmas day because here, like in America, parents and children alike take great joy in Santa’s arrival. I also enjoy seeing the young children’s faces light up at the sight of Santa the jolly old soul.
The cities in China are still lit up with Christmas lights and they are so beautifully displayed that also brought out the Christmas spirit in me.
The Chinese on Christmas day also enjoyed celebrating the special season with the lighting of bonfires. Some sang songs and danced around the large glowing fires. They set off large firework displays as well in the night sky. It is an ancient tradition that goes back thousands of years. It's one of their ways of coming together as an entire community to celebrate their abundance and to be thankful for having one another in their lives. That is just one of the reasons I find this season so special here.
There was a time though when I felt the season of giving was simply a common courtesy in order to receive and provide our significant others with material gifts.
I now understand more clearly that this special season is for heartfelt acts of gratitude for having people in our lives. When keeping the true spirit of giving close to our heart it enables us to give from the heart all year-round.
The yuletide season should be a time when our love comes to call because that love gives this time of year its true meaning.
What intrigues me about the Christmas season here in China is that the majority who celebrate this time of year are non-Christian. The Buddhists have embraced the season as a way of giving thanks.
I have found over the years, though, that it's not the material gifts that count in life but rather it's the unrecognized, undetected and unremembered acts of loving kindness that are our greatest gifts and achievements in life.
If we truly want to see a world of loving and joyous people we must be loving and joyous toward the people in our own lives. That potential is part of our humanity. When we reach out and touch others we touch part of the humanity that is within us. When we enhance the life of another in need we in turn enhance our own lives.
Objects gift-wrapped in shiny paper can be forgotten over time but kindness whispered to those in need will echo endlessly throughout the community. Those small acts of kindness resonate with the giver and the receiver because they are gifts from the heart. Such priceless gifts can never be measured monetarily though because how can you put a price on love?
From my heart to yours I would like to wish all of you a very merry and joyous holiday season.
Always with love from Suzhou, China
Thomas F O’Neill
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