Christmas is not typically celebrated in China, since only a small percentage of the population are Christians. That said, no matter which city you’re visiting or living in, you can count on the fact that you won’t escape that Christmassy feeling. Much like Valentine’s Day, Christmas has been heavily commercialized in China meaning you’ll see just as many lights, trees and decorations as you would back home. Though the holiday isn’t officially celebrated here, there is still a unique tradition that happens every year in China on Christmas Eve.
Peaceful Evening, aka Christmas Eve
If you’re teaching in China or have Chinese colleagues, you may notice people swapping carefully wrapped or boxed apples on this day. This more modern tradition is becoming increasingly popular, meaning that if you are a teacher, you’ll probably leave school on Christmas Eve with a bag full of apples. Though this may be disappointing to hear to those who enjoy indulging in endless amounts of chocolate and crisps around this time, there is quite an interesting story behind it.
In Chinese, Christmas Eve is called Ping’an Ye 平(píng)安(ān)夜(yè), which translates to peaceful or quiet evening. This name originates from the carol Silent Night, which in Chinese is called exactly that; 平安夜.
The word for apple in Mandarin Chinese is 苹(píng)果(guǒ), which sounds like 平(píng)安(ān) – the Chinese word for peace. The Chinese have combined these two terms into 平(píng)安(ān)果(guǒ), , meaning peace apples and begun gifting apples to friends, colleagues and teachers on this day. These Christmas Eve peace apples aren’t regular apples, however. Eating one of these on Christmas Eve is supposed to bring you a safe and peaceful new year.
So, among the regular western style Christmas decorations that appear in shops around this time of the year, you’re likely to see cute decorated boxes which contain apples. Some shops even take this a step further, and print text and images on the apples themselves!
Beware though, this decade old tradition has become so popular, that on the days leading up to 24th December, the price of apples increases to up to double the price of usual. It has been known for people to spend up to 80 RMB for one apple!
So, if you’re planning on partaking in this phenomenon, make sure to get your apples before they sell out!
Are you celebrating Christmas in China this year and you’re not sure what to do? Check out our post about how to celebrate Christmas in China.