Christmas in China – from Azeroth to zero interest in the festive season

Phoebe Zhang

Christmas is always celebrated in Azeroth. A decorated tree sits at the centre of the city, carols are sung, people dress up, and elves assign holiday-related tasks such as throwing a snowball or saving a reindeer.

Beijing-based producer Sophia Chen, 32, has never missed a Christmas celebration in Azeroth, the major city in the popular game World of Warcraft. The annual holiday in the game, called the Feast of Winter Veil, is always popular among players. During the festival, points earned finishing the tasks can be exchanged for virtual accessories for their character.

For Chen, the Christmas trees are “nice” but the prime concern is points – not sentiment.

“For long-time players like me, it’s a priority to earn holiday points and exchange game accessories,” she said.

Chen isn’t the only one immune to Christmas celebrations in China.

The holiday is more associated with the culture of consumption and the novelty of a foreign festival rather than religion, and is usually celebrated by young people dining out with friends. With little cultural tradition to draw on, the festive season can be a drain for some.

Beijing-based researcher Ma Ziyu is unmoved by Christmas jollity. The day is not a public holiday but the shops are bursting with decorations and pushing sales.

My son always wants to buy Christmas candies and gingerbread biscuits, but in fact they are sweet, unhealthy, and don’t actually taste good

Beijing-based researcher Ma Ziyu

Ma said the day was drenched with consumerism, adding that without a strong Christian tradition and not enough culture to support the celebrations.

“My son always wants to buy Christmas candies and gingerbread biscuits, but in fact they are sweet, unhealthy, and don’t actually taste good,” she said.

Police use tear gas, pepper spray as Hong Kong Christmas protests turn ugly

At her son’s kindergarten, the children have to perform songs and dances, while at her company, employees are given an apple, a recent tradition to express a wish for a peaceful evening. In Chinese, “apple” sounds like the word for “peace” and Christmas Eve is translated as pingan ye, or peaceful evening.

Ma would prefer another kind of Christmas gift.

“Wouldn’t it be nice to receive some money or half a day off?” she said.

A man stands in front of Christmas decorations at Xishiku cathedral on Christmas Eve in Beijing. Photo: Reuters

Shanghai-based Christina He also finds Christmas traditions annoying, especially the Secret Santa ritual at her workplace.

“The Christmas routine I dislike most every year is being forced to be part of Secret Santa,” she said. “I’m forced to exchange gifts with my colleagues.”

Pope leads Christmas Mass as thousands gather in Bethlehem

Every year, each employee must buy a Christmas present for less than 200 yuan (US$28) for a random colleague. The 28-year-old said she had never received a gift that seemed meant for her – for three years straight, she received a bottle of red wine, while last year she got a pink lipstick.

“The game supposedly makes work relationships more amiable, but I feel it’s copying a foreign tradition, on a foreign holiday. They can’t find another way to bond,” she said.

According to a 2017 report by financial news service Caixin, consumer spending on traditional Chinese holidays such as Lunar New Year and the Mid-Autumn Festival rose from 14.3 per cent to 15.6 per cent of total household expenditure during those periods, while the spending during “foreign holidays” including Christmas, fell from 23 per cent to 19.2 per cent.

The report also said that a poll showed that among all people aged above 25, there was growing interest in spending on traditional holidays and decreasing interest for foreign holidays, while for people aged 16 to 25, interest for both increased, with Western holidays in the lead.

Chinese authorities have also been trying to promote Chinese culture. In 2017, the State Council, the national cabinet, issued a set of guidelines to “revive” traditional festivals such as the Qixi Festival, a celebration of two mythical lovers.

How ongoing Hong Kong protests dampened the year-end holiday mood

In addition, some local governments have issued statements in the past few years around Christmas, warning against excessive celebrations or decorations.

But for young Chinese, both traditional and foreign holidays are essentially a chance to relax.

“There’s too much pressure at work but we only get a few days off around traditional holidays, so many want to use these foreign holidays as an excuse to relax,” He said. “I was going to go to the gym on Tuesday, but I realised it was Christmas Eve, so I bought wine and snacks, went back home and just laid in bed.”

More from South China Morning Post:

This article Christmas in China – from Azeroth to zero interest in the festive season first appeared on South China Morning Post

For the latest news from the South China Morning Post download our mobile app. Copyright 2019.