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      1. Pacific Dialogue
        Ho Ho… No?
        By Liang Xiao  ·  2023-12-31  ·   Source: NO.1 JANUARY 4, 2024

        Like clockwork, every year around December 25, a heated debate has been taking over Chinese social media in the past half decade or so. The hot topic: Should the Chinese celebrate Christmas or not?

        Opponents, or naysayers, believe that Chinese people should pay more attention to their own traditional festivals and "not let foreign cultures hog the spotlight." Supporters, or yay-sayers then, believe that cultural exchange should be diverse and inclusive, and that celebrating Christmas is a matter of personal choice. "Plus, given the holiday boosts consumption, why oppose it?" some yay-saying netizens wrote on a range of social media platforms.

        The debate has also attracted the attention of a growing number of (self-proclaimed) "China watchers."

        Some of them speculate that the Chinese Government is restricting Christmas celebrations for ideological reasons, but the fact is that no such ban has ever existed. Others believe that the "Christmas boycott" is more popularly initiated and see it as a sign of rising Chinese nationalism and "a reminder to the Western world to stay on its toes."

        But for the vast majority of Chinese, things aren't that complicated. Whether it's about traditional Chinese festivals or holiday celebrations introduced from other cultures, many people are simply tired of tedious holiday etiquette and the extra expenses involved. Pure and simple.

        In China, from ancient to contemporary times, the most important occasion for family gatherings is the Spring Festival, a celebration that begins on Chinese New Year's Eve, usually in mid-to-late January or early February, followed by a weeklong public holiday.

        Christmas was introduced to China roughly a century ago and has only become popular in the country's megacities over the past four decades—basically after the country embarked on its journey of reform and opening up in 1978.

        Despite Christmas trees on display and Jingle Bells on repeat in shopping malls, some holiday accoutrements very familiar to the Western eye and ear, Christmas has almost become a completely different thing in China.

        With only about 20 million Christians—or less than 2 percent of the country's population, the reconnection that Christmas represents for many in the West is not really part of the holiday's narrative.

        Chinese-style Christmas has become an almost purely consumerist gimmick, a time for some serious shopping, not exactly a time for stopping and reflecting. But given the current era of e-commerce comes with just too many online shopping festivals and promotional stunts, the Christmas economy today holds far less appeal than it did before.

        For many young Chinese, Christmas often means paying higher-than-usual prices to take their significant other out on a special date to a nice restaurant and buying them expensive gifts.

        The same process is often repeated a few days later on New Year's Day and two months later on Valentine's Day.

        The China-style Christmas gift has basically evolved from a well-wrapped piece of fruit acquired at a huge markup 30 years ago to today's latest iPhone—another expensive "Apple." It's not surprising that many people try to dodge their "tradition."

        But declining popularity aside, this holiday is not necessarily or entirely overlooked in China. On the evening of December 24, 2023, Christmas Eve, almost all major cities in China saw serious traffic congestion, and the evening rush hour lasted until 11 p.m., something obviously rather unusual for a Sunday night.

        There are always people willing to pay extra for romantic or holiday phenomena, which is also the main motivation for retailers to continue with their promotional activities.

        Meanwhile, according to data released by German database company Statista on July 7, 2023, China was the leading exporting country of Christmas decorations globally. Chinese companies produce more than 90 percent of the world's Christmas decorations with exports of such articles amounting to over $9.7 billion. In other words, many Chinese, who aren't Christmas celebrators, are an important part of the business chain of Christmas culture.

        On a final note, here's a bit of news that may have flown under the radar:

        On December 22, 2023, the 78th United Nations General Assembly designated Spring Festival as a UN floating holiday from 2024 onward.

        To some extent, this did soften the tone of the Christmas debate among Chinese netizens in 2023. 

        More and more people are realizing that as China very much hopes its culture can be understood by people from other countries, then people in China should welcome foreign cultures with a more open attitude.

        After all, whether it's Spring Festival or Christmas, the same concept applies: Sharing is caring.

        Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon

        Comments to liangxiao@cicgamericas.com

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