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Christmas in China: Santa Claus is Coming

Christmas is said to be a time for getting together to put up the tree and enjoy a good meal with family and friends, but what do netizens in China have to say about the holiday? Christmas in China: Is Santa Taking Over the People’s Republic?




Christmas is said to be a time for getting together to put up the tree and enjoy a good meal with family and friends, but what do netizens in China have to say about the holiday? What’s on Weibo’s Cat Hanson looks into the extent to which the Christmas season is embraced in China.

At this time of year, communities across the world are gearing up to celebrate Christmas. In the United Kingdom, many will be preparing turkey and crackers for the 25th of December. In Russian Orthodox communities, January 7th is the day for sweet treats and festivities.

In China, a predominantly atheist country with a small proportion of Christians, Christmas is just another working day. However, the Chinese Christmas experience has been gradually changing over the recent years.

Chinese businesses increasingly have started to incorporate a commercial Christmas theme into their winter seasons. It has sparked online discussion amongst netizens on what the influx of Jingle Bells at this time of year means to them.

According the Council on Foreign Relations, Chinese law allows what is described as “normal religious activities” that do not “engage in activities that disrupt social order, impair the health of citizens or interfere with the educational system of the state.” The Chinese Communist Party is atheist and Christmas is not a public holiday.

The Mandarin for Christmas (圣诞节, shèngdànjié) roughly translates as “The Festival of the Holy Birth,” however Christmas in China is mostly commercial rather than religious. While some churches will hold Christmas services, Christmas in China mostly seems to be about shopping. Online and in-store, the festive season revolves around retail promotions using secular American and Eurocentric depictions of a white-bearded Santa and reindeer.


This trend shows no signs of stopping, and the idea of a Christmas period or ‘style’ has been growing year on year. This leads to mixed reactions from those keen to participate and those who are frustrated by the holiday hubbub.

Most Chinese citizens do not observe Christmas Day, but China’s foreigner community is often a source of events and parties organized for those who are away from home during the holidays. In Beijing, for example, a SantaCon event* has been held every December for the past few years. SantaCon participants, both local and foreign, dress as shengdan laoren (Santa Claus), sing Christmas songs, and tour the city together. *(SantaCon is a public gathering of ‘Santas’ for a pubcrawl or other activities, a tradition that started in 1994 San Fransisco).

SantaCon Beijing, via

SantaCon Beijing, via

Other similarly-themed public and private events involving fancy-dress, karaoke, Christmas dinners and partying are numerous in Beijing and other Chinese cities in December, despite the fact that this may not be the traditional way it is celebrated back home.


“Christmas is the chance to try out new foods and socialize in a style that is different from the norm.”


For many, the Christmas events and parties are just another chance to meet new people and learn more about other cultures. Former Beijing exchange student Raf tells What’s on Weibo: “Oddly enough, [it] isn’t something I’d do back in my hometown – it was something I only participated in during my time as a foreign exchange student in Beijing. It really felt like a great bonding experience of culture-sharing with your fellow expats when you’re handing out candy and singing Western Christmas carols.” Local citizens were “receptive and pretty welcoming in our revelries,” he adds.

For restaurants, the Christmas season is also a great opportunity to provide bespoke menus. Traditional Chinese celebrations such as Spring Festival are the perfect time for Chinese cuisine, however in December, many restaurants in larger international cities have begun to offer menus containing foods like cheese, baked bread and chocolate.

After welcoming esteemed chef Uwe Opocensky, Beef & Liberty Restaurant in Shanghai has noticed a rise in demand for more festive flavours that are not typically found in Chinese cuisine.

“We created a proper Christmas menu for bigger party bookings,” Taylor Yang from Beef & Liberty’s marketing team told What’s on Weibo: “All the items in there are the favorite Beef & Liberty items with some added festival elements. For example, the warm cookie is a regular popular item on our menu, and we added in orange and cinnamon elements to call it our Christmas cookie – it’s definitely a crowd pleaser.”

It seems that part of the appeal of Christmas is the chance to try out new foods and socialize in a style that is different from the norm.


“In China, Christmas is seen as a fashionable expression of the winter season.”


Despite the foods, costumes, and parties, Christmas in China is not entirely imported from a monolithic idea of ‘Western culture.’ Also influencing large portions of the country’s consumers is nearby South Korea, credited for creating a wave of cultural influence over its neighbors via the soft power channels of pop music, films and television.

According to data gathered by the Pew Research Centre in 2010, Christians accounted for just over five percent of the population in China, compared to almost thirty percent in South Korea. One facet of South Korea’s exported cultural wave is that it rarely alters its content for its foreign consumers.

Celebrating Christmas in South Korea, via

Celebrating Christmas in South Korea, via

It is therefore easy to see why the majority of Korean companies operating in China still offer Christmas promotions, such as cosmetic company Innisfree’s ‘Green Christmas’ range.

Over time, Chinese businesses have also utilized Christmas-themed campaigns. Popular hashtags on Weibo include “The best Christmas presents” (#圣诞节最佳礼物#) and Miaopai’s photography-themed “Snap-Crazy Christmas” (#疯拍圣诞节#). This altogether creates a sense that rather than a religious celebration, Christmas in China is seen as a fashionable expression of the winter season.

Despite South Korea and the many other countries and worldwide communities that celebrate Christmas, in online discussions, Christmas in China is often presented hand-in-hand with the West, described as “a foreign” or “Western” festival. Some worry that the Christmas promotions and deals are incompatible with traditional Chinese culture.


In December 2015 a group of Hunan high school students dressed in traditional Chinese clothing (hanfu), protested by holding red placards reading “Boycott Christmas – don’t celebrate foreign festivals.”


“I don’t believe in Christianity and I don’t believe in God. Why would I celebrate the birth of Jesus?”


In response to these protests, netizen Sakura (@百斩少女刘兔兔), who has over ten thousand followers on Weibo, posted pictures of herself wearing hanfu dress in front of a Christmas tree with the caption “I want to tell everybody, as a true advocate of reviving traditional culture, wonderful cultures from both East and West can coexist. Boycott this negative hype, let’s calmly and confidently walk together.”


Discussions over the phrase “boycott Christmas” have since been floating around the web. Often in reaction to the commercial hashtags, some netizens express frustration at the festive frenzy and imply that many forget that rather than just an excuse to socialize and buy things, Christmas is primarily a Christian holiday that is not officially celebrated in China.

“Boycott Western Christmas!” says one Weibo user (@不良风气播报员): “People get so excited about Western festivals. The 25th rolls around and there’s so much trash, so many Santa hats, Christmas trees, Christmas clothes, bells, Santas – it all ends up on the trash heap. Protect the environment and boycott Christmas – oh, I mean Jesus’ birthday!”

@NewStar says: “Boycott Christmas. I don’t believe in Christianity and I don’t believe in God. Why would I celebrate the birth of Jesus? I celebrate Spring Festival, and I believe in my ancestors!”

However, others on Weibo use the phrase a little more light-heartedly: “Boycott Christmas, start the countdown to Spring Festival,” one Weibo user says: “But…the Christmas trees and Hello Kitty’s are just so sparkly, I love them.”


“Mother’s Day is from the West, Christmas is also from the West, so why do some people boycott Christmas but celebrate Mothers’ Day?”


Some netizens are purely excited for Christmas-themed coziness, hot chocolate and fairy lights. “Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way!” writes @LittleGoddessClassroom adding a Santa emoji: “I heard we’re posting Christmas pictures. Good stuff is coming our way!”

In the midst of the debate, some have also explained that boycotting Christmas is not necessarily a matter of ‘East vs West’, but more about maintaining what they view to be traditional Chinese culture: “Mother’s Day is from the West, Christmas is also from the West, so why do some people boycott Christmas and yet rightly celebrate Mothers’ Day?” writes @MrJ-fans.

In a Weibo blog post, one author (@祝太太像宋慧乔) wrote that while Christmas is too small-scale to threaten traditional Chinese festivals, young people in particular embrace Christmas not necessarily for cultural reasons, but, as in the aforementioned fancy-dress events, in order to socialize: “Christmas is about merriment, getting together and enjoying oneself. Christmas songs, Christmas trees, Santa and presents are all for this purpose. You’d be hard-pressed to find another traditional holiday that has so many festive elements.”

Despite varied responses, the general consensus seems to be that while many are getting into the seasonal spirit, most netizens are mostly looking forward to the approaching Spring Festival.

China’s recent restaurant promotions, business campaigns, and online trends show that with the growth of globalization, there is an increased desire to engage with ‘trends’ and cultures from across the world. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that traditional Chinese culture, nor the Chinese internet, will be hijacked by Christmas hashtags anytime soon; the revelry surrounding Christmas is still vastly surpassed by the festivities that take place during the Chinese Lunar New Year.


Let’s not forget that China’s annual televised Spring Festival Gala remains one of the most-watched programs in the world. Despite the Santa hats and Christmas decoration, many stores in China have already begun selling the scarlet Chinese New Year decorations.

By Cat Hanson

Disclaimer: Beef & Liberty restaurant is in no way affiliated with or the opinions expressed by others in this.

©2016 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at

Cat Hanson is a U.K. graduate of Chinese Studies now teaching and living in China. She swapped Beijing for Anhui, and runs her own blog on China life: Putong Press.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Avatar

    Zach Lucas

    December 22, 2016 at 11:03 pm

    In America so many Christmas gifts, so little thought behind them:

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China and Covid19

Chinese Tourism Bureau Chiefs Go Viral for Trying Really, Really Hard to Attract More Post-Covid Domestic Tourists

It’s a Culture & Tourism Bureau social media battle: China’s local tourist offices are fighting to go viral to attract more visitors.

Manya Koetse



Hoping to attract more domestic tourists in the post-Covid-era, Chinese local government officials are trying really hard to promote their hometowns. Various tourism bureau chiefs from across China are going viral on Weibo, Douyin, and beyond for dressing up in traditional outfits and creating original videos with low to zero budget.

Another local Chinese tourism bureau chief went viral today – it’s an entire trend by itself. Tourist department offices under several local governments in China are trying really hard to promote their hometowns these days in hopes of attracting more domestic tourists in China’s post-Covid era.

Government officials are showing their best side – and their most creative one – on social media to convince tourists to visit their region. In doing so, these local bureau chiefs have been attracting online attention for appearing in promo videos in various creative ways (#为了让你去玩儿文旅局长们能有多拼#).

Since early 2020, China’s tourism industry has been heavily impacted by the pandemic and China’s strict Covid measures and lockdowns. At various moments during the pandemic, China’s domestic tourism saw an increase in holiday bookings as tourists still wanted to travel but could not easily travel abroad.

Now that China has lifted blockades on foreign travel, the post-zero-Covid itch to travel is back in full swing. As travel to other countries is seeing a boom again (while tourist visas to mainland China are still halted), local tourist offices are doing all they can with a minimal budget to encourage domestic travel to their lovely hometowns.

The trend of China’s tourist bureau chiefs finding innovative ways to promote their regions or towns via social media has been going on for some time already, but it wasn’t until recently that they really gained nationwide attention for their efforts.

The recent viral trend is not only generating more attention for the specific towns and regions promoted in the videos, it is also bringing more recognition for the drive of China’s Culture & Tourism Bureau chiefs – officials who usually rarely get the limelight. Many Chinese netizens agree that it must take a lot of talent and creativity to become a local tourism bureau chief nowadays.



Riding a horse through a windy snowy country, He Jiaolong (贺娇龙) was the first local official to feature in a social media video to promote the Yili region. The video of the vice-county head of Zhaosu, all dressed up, went viral in the winter of 2020.

Chief He later told reporters that she did not expect the video to go as viral as it did. According to Shine, He Jiaolong said: “I invited two horse lovers to help us promote local tourism on social media. We borrowed the costume from a local art troupe. They posted my horse-riding videos on Douyin and received enthusiastic responses.”

A ‘behind the scenes’ video later published on Douyin showed He falling over and battling the cold during the filming, only making the local official more popular for her dedication.



In October of 2022, Xie Wei (解伟), director of the Suizhou Municipal Bureau of Culture and Tourism in Hubei province, made headlines for his performance in videos produced and directed by himself.

As reported by South China Post, Xie made the videos himself because the local tourism bureau did not have the budget for a professional production. Although the videos made by Xie went viral, they also received some criticism because of how Xie was role-playing and dressing up as an ancient knight.

Nevertheless, Xie Wei did breathe new life into this creative approach to destination marketing, inspiring other Culture and Tourism Bureaus across China to take a similar social media strategy and join on the battleground to win over the hearts of domestic travelers.



In February of 2023, it was the bureau chief of the Garzê Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture Tourism Office, Liu Hong (@甘孜刘洪), who went viral with various videos featuring him in traditional clothing, which earned him the nickname of “most handsome bureau chief” (“最帅局长”).

It was not the first time for Liu to star in his own tourism promotion video, as there was another video in 2022 in which he also did some cosplay to promote the Garze region (Sichuan).

Liu Hong is now known as one of China’s “celebrity tourism bureau chiefs” (网红文旅局长). The videos actually helped to promote the region but also turned Liu into a celebrity.



On February 10 of 2023, it was the Cultural Tourism Bureau chief Jiangze Duoji (@降泽多吉) of Dawu County who professionalized the social media video trend and featured in a super slick 3-minute video with beautfiul shots and a creative idea.

In the intro of the video, Jiangze Duoji speaks English when he talks about his life question of “Who am I?” The video then shows the local official dancing in an astronaut’s costume in Moshi Park, one of the area’s most beautiful scenic spots that will make you feel like you’re in outer space.

The local official is then dressed as a Tang emperor at the Daowu dwellings, moves on to be a an old painter in the Yuke grasslands and King Gasar while galloping over the Longdeng prairie.

The video did not just go viral, it was also promoted by several state media outlets, making it among the most famous videos in this list. It’s also on Youtube here.



On February 27, the Heilongjiang Tahe Culture and Tourism Bureau (Daxing’anling prefecture) released a video in which a team of 34 people simulated a rocket launch in the snow.

Du Bo (都波), director of the Tahe County Bureau of Culture and Tourism, told reporters that the decision to shoot the video like this was made during lunch, with the position plan drawn out on a napkin.

With this original video, the local tourist office literally took the social media battle to another level (#塔河县文旅局长卷出新高度#). But Du Bo also stated that other tourist offices in China should not hold back and be scared to join the social media battle, saying they were all in this together to recover China’s domestic tourism industry (“不要怕卷,这种卷是一件好事,大家凝聚在一起,共同期待文旅行业的复苏”).

The tourist office also released a second video that gained popularity online, featuring a ‘snow queen’ in beautiful snowy landscape.



This video, which premiered late February of 2023, is also professionally made, with the Meishan Tourism Office taking the video trend very seriously.

The bureau chief demonstrates the beauty of kung fu in this short film, which also received many thumbs up on social media (#文旅局长用功夫带你游眉山#).



On March 7, a video from the tourist office in Gaoping, a county-level city in Shanxi’s Jincheng, also went viral on Chinese social media as “yet another tourist office chief joining the war” (#又一文旅局长申请出战#).

The video shows the local tourist bureau chief “going to war” in traditional costume to promote Gaoping as the hometown of Emperor Yan (#文旅局长戏服代言炎帝故里#).



The video posted on social media ‘on behalf of’ the Tourism Bureau of Huanggang, Hubei, also attracted a lot of attention online since many people believed the cosplaying bureau chief had suddenly turned into a handsome young idol.

It later turned out that this video was actually not an official one and was posted on social media without the permission of the tourist office by enthusiastic locals.



The hashtag is “Jiangsu’s Culture and Tourist Office Bureau Chief Joins the Battle” (#江苏文旅局长卷起来了#). Liu Bing (刘冰), the deputy director of the Tourism and Culture Bureau in Suqian, Jiangsu, is another local official who is going viral these days for his appearance in a self-produced promo video on social media (#江苏一文旅局长变装项羽代言家乡#).

In the video, Liu Bing is dressed as Xiang Yu (项羽), Hegemon-King of Western Chu, to endorse Suqian tourism. Suqian is the hometown of Xiang Yu (232–202 BC), who is considered one of the greatest military leaders in ancient China.

Although Suqian is one of the later Tourism Bureau hypes to join the hype, the video – published on March 9 – is still welcomed by netizens and is actually putting some pressure on other Chinese cities and regions to come up with their own videos featuring their own historical local heroes.




Fujian might be a bit late in “going to war” and joining the social media battle between the Chinese Tourism and Culture Bureau chiefs, its new video (March 9) obviously took a lot of effort, as it features different members of staff in various tourist spots in Fujian province.

The hashtag “Fujian Culture and Tourism Bureau Joins the Battle” (#福建的文旅局长卷起来了#) circulated on Thursday, attracting nearly five million views on Weibo in one day.

By Manya Koetse 
with contributions by Miranda Barnes


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China Brands & Marketing

Haidilao No Longer Allows Customers to Bring Their Own Food

While Haidilao is banning its bring-your-own-food option, customers can still bring their own drinks.

Manya Koetse



It was listed as one of the most popular topics on Weibo on Thursday, February 23: Chinese hotpot chain Haidilao bans customers from bringing their own food (#海底捞禁止自带菜#).

Starting from Feb. 21, 2023, the popular hotpot restaurant strictly enforces its policy of not allowing guests to bring outside food.

Previously, some Haidilao locations did allow customers to bring small amounts of their own food or ingredients, as long as they would sign a waiver. Haidilao stated that the recent ban on bringing in own food is in line with the restaurant’s food management and safety policies.

Haidilao has hundreds of restaurants across China, and people often line up to get a table. Dining at Haidilao is known to be an experience in itself, as the hospitality of Haidilao staff is widely praised; staff members are thoroughly trained to give customers the best possible service. Throughout the years, the chain has introduced many new concepts to enhance customer experience.

Haidilao is all about hotpot, where you put fresh ingredients in a big pot filled with simmering broth. The pot is placed in the middle of the table, accompanied by plates of various meats, vegetables, noodles, condiments, dipping sauces, etc. The ingredients are to be cooked in the broth – Haidilao offers many different options from spicy to mild -and then taken out and dipped into the chosen sauce before eating. Because of this dining style, it would be relatively easy for people to bring their own ingredients as they could just cook them at the table.

Although most commenters on Weibo think it is only reasonable for Haidilao to prohibit people from bringing in their own food, there are still many discussions about the topic. On Thursday night, the topic had over 260 million views on Weibo. By Friday, the hashtag had over 420 million clicks.

The most recurring comments are from those people who did not know that it was previously allowed to bring some of your own food. They wonder why people would do that in the first place. “If you go out for hotpot and bring your own food, why would you not just have hotpot at home?”

Haidilao’s ‘bring your own food’ option was reportedly introduced in 2017 as part of the restaurant’s ‘customer always comes first’ marketing concept, allowing people to bring an ingredient or dish they especially liked to the restaurant.

Some people say they appreciated the option. One commenter posted a photo showing how they brought their own seafood to Haidilao, writing: “Bringing your own food can be so delicious (..), we did it and we still ordered from the restaurant. They made us sign a waiver.”

Another Weibo user (@王铜根) wrote: “I’ve been going to Haidilao for many years and only this year did I bring my own food on two occasions. Once, I bought a very nice beef at the supermarket but I was afraid it was going to thaw on my way home and then I realized I could bring my own food to Haidilao and I went and ate it there. While I was eating it, I thought, Haidilao is so amazing, I vowed that I’d always support them.”

Over a year ago, Haidilao announced that it was closing about 300 of its restaurants which had been doing worse than expected.

Haidilao suffered because of Covid and local lockdowns. Due to the restaurant’s increased labor costs, its menu prices went up, much to the dismay of many netizens, who already thought the prices at Haidilao were steep before the pandemic. In October of 2021, the story of a Haidilao customer in Zhengzhou discovering that the 200 grams of tripe he ordered for 72rmb ($11) was actually only 138 grams also went viral on Weibo, stirring discussions on the Haidilao menu prices.

While Haidilao’s choice to ban its bring-your-own-food option could be a strategic business choice, it also could have other motives related to marketing and legal reasons. (Also read our story on this scammer pretending to find coackroaces in his hotpot to get money from Haidilao.)

Haidilao still allows customers to bring their own beverages to the restaurant.

Read more about Haidilao.

By Manya Koetse 

Featured image via weibo @咚咚东_ddd


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©2023 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at

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