Tag Archives: Christmas China

Beijing vs Shanghai: The Battle for Christmas Capital


With 2 years living in Nanjing, close to Shanghai, on my back and another 2 in Beijing, as well as frequent visits to the fashion and finance center of the South throughout my time up North, I’ve been enjoying comparing the festive spirit and Christmas decorations in both cities on multiple occasions.

Nowadays you will find Christmas music playing non-stop in many of China’s international coffeshop chains and even in most larger shopping centers. Pretty much mid-November the Christmas decorations were also starting to appear in any establishment that fancied itself worldly – and that goes not just for Beijing and Shanghai, but also second-tier cities like Nanjing.

That being said there is always the question of how “genuine”, “tasteful” or surreal the decorations and Christmas celebrations can turn out to be. From Christmas lamas, to Mrs Santa techno flashmobs, Christmas trees decorated with or made out of teddy bears and lots of neon-plastic deco, the festive spirit here can sometimes come across as a little gawdy or just not quite right.

Without much doubt, both Beijing and Shanghai are probably nationwide leaders in Christmas spirit and are getting better at it with every passing year. But is one better than the other? Had you asked me 2 years back I would have without a doubt said that the Western fashion and lifestyle loving Shanghai is the clear winner. With tasteful decorations to be found on the bund, it seemed at the time miles ahead of Beijing, where strange decorative items and festive events abounded.

However, two years on and I am not so sure anymore. Beijing has heaps of amazing Christmas stuff going on. Christmas Bazaars, Markets and Fayres in the Hutongs, with Mulled Wine and Meat Pies. Christmas High Teas at luxury hotel chains. And more Christmas lunches and dinners than you can count. The overall quality of decorations also seems to have gotten much better, as decorations are becoming more sophisticated and tasteful and less screechy, if you know what I mean.

But Shanghai competition is tough! I just went back for a work trip and once I realised this was where I was going I got very giddy at the thought of hitting the Bund and soaking up some of the best Christmas decoration to be found on the Chinese mainland. My very personal absolute favourite is the Peace Hotel (former Cathay Hotel). Not only do they have what I believe to be the most stunning Christmas deco in all of China, I will always remember with the greatest fondness the amazing weekend I got to spend there as part of a media drive. Once in a lifetime kind of weekend! So of course, I had to pop in and see my beloved Peace Hotel Extravaganza and this almost decided the big battle between the two rivals.

However, just before writing this post this afternoon I walked past “The Place”, yet another shopping mall in Beijing and all of a sudden I ran straight into the arms of Santa! I realise he’s not the first Santa to appear in China, but he was the first I ever ran into as I don’t tend to spend my time in many international schools. He was adorable and very much in character, telling me all about his trip over from “Finland”. So, in light of the adorable Santa – who was a marketing stint by a Chinese car company as it turns out – I will have to hand the Christmas Crown to Beijing after all!

Santa came all the way from Finland to Beijing’s “The Place”

PS: I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Mobike have changed their locks’ ringtone to Jingle Bells! So much adorable Christmassy-ness – I LOVE IT!

Who wins your Battle for Christmas Capital? Let me know and merry Christmas!




It’s Already the Most Magical Time of the Year in Beijing’s Coffee Shops

When I was still in Europe, I remember clearly the groaning that would commence when the Christmas decorations hit our supermarkets around mid-November. People around me would complain that Christmas is starting earlier and earlier each year. Well, here’s the irony. In China, where Christmas was traditionally not celebrated, it seems on the 1st of November someone somewhere flipped the Christmas switch. Don’t get me wrong, as a fan of anything Christmas I’m not complaining. Mostly when I saw that Costa had put up their extra-special Christmas selection (Billionaires Latte, Crème Brûlée Caramel Latte, and English Trifle Latte in case you weren’t wondering), I felt excitement at the thought of dragging the Christmas playlist out of the depths of my computer and setting it on repeat, plus the ceremonious setting up of my less-than-20 RMB Christmas tree, that has been my faithful Jollyday companion for the past three years. Imagine my excitement at the fact that I managed to snag some prime Primark Christmas tree decorations in the shape of Disney’s Mickey Mouse during my recent trip back to the UK. Yes, I shop at Primark. No, I am not ashamed. Yes, I am a 30-year old woman with Minnie dangling off my festive plastic greenery. Stop judging!

How do you know Christmas is coming? Coz Costa won’t shut up about it…

Anyway, wandering off course again. Some part of me feels a bit strange about this early onset of festive spirit. It feels a bit improper, doesn’t it? Next thing you know, you’ll be hearing Jingle Bell Rock in August. Well, actually, that has happened. Chinese shopping mall DJs in particular have the outstanding ability to appreciate a good Christmas song at any time of the year.

At the same time, they’re no better back in England. One of the ways I feel connected to my British roots is listening to Capital FM – you know, the channel that plays the songs da yout is listening to ten times on repeat in one hour. Thank god half of my heart is in Havanna, also (see, I’m cool and down wit da kids #reference). Not that I’ve ever been to Havanna. Wait, off course again, return to topic, first mate! So, Capital is also, I suspect, hooked into the 1st of November switch grid and have started pushing their annual Christmas Ball tickets like it’s the only thing we’ve been waiting for all our lives (which it probably is). That of course makes me miss home more – yes, I love an extended festive season, but really being in China during the run-up to Christmas is the time when I, and from what I know many of my peers as well, miss home the most. Therefore, this bittersweet period of pre-festivities is extended and I find myself in a pickle: enjoy the magic and the sometimes very surreal Christmas events around Beijing – and drink my way through ALL the Christmas specials Beijing’s coffee shop chains have to offer, or be depressed about my missing out on the atmosphere at home. I choose the former, especially since this year I am going home – something I’ve managed to keep up pretty much every other year since I moved to China.

And so, on this morning, in what is barely the second week of November, I sit in a Starbucks – and boy, they’ve already been taking it to the next level. One Christmas smash hit after the other, and despite my slight misgivings I cannot help but want to jump up and run around the store, scream-singing “I WANNA WISH YOU A MEEEEEERRY CHRISTMAS FROM THE BOTTOM OF MY HEEEEEEAAAAART”.

Feliz Pre-Navidad,

My friends!

What is it you miss about Christmas at home?

I’m Dreaming of a Chinese Christmas

Christmas is always a fascinating time in China. The concept is as popular here as it is back in Europe, however it is of course completely detached from any religious meaning. Instead, it becomes all about the cookies, the decorations and the Christmas shopping. In a country that has such different standards and tastes in terms of aesthetics, Christmas decorations in China can end up gaudy to downright crazy and related Christmas activities incredibly surreal.

Point in case, during our recent visit to our local shopping centre we got to witness two Christmas llamas squeezed into a small space in the middle of the shopping centre with masses of people snapping away at them. Stepping outside of the centre under an arch constructed of yellow and green that lights up at night, there was a dance troupe of Santa’s and Mrs Santa’s wearing hardly anything but their red little dresses doing a very unchristmassy hip hop dance performance.


I have seen numerous Christmas trees made out of the most unexpected materials possible – a teddy bear tree was one of my highlights – and Christmas displays that were as random as it gets, incorporating carousel horses or even China’s famous Xi Yangyang characters.

That’s not to say there aren’t any decorations out there that are up to our Western standards. Especially in Shanghai in the French concession and on the bund one can find many examples that might as well have been straight out of Europe and Hong Kong has had a century of practice with the British presence.

I have noticed how sinified decorations and those more akin to what I am used to from having grown up in Europe both evoke different emotional reactions. While I do feel grateful and happy to see gaudy Christmas decorations, considering Christmas is not native to China, it is always with a little pang of regret. The often slightly cheap looking trees and baubles remind me of the fact that I am not actually back home while at the same time making sure I don’t forget it’s Christmas time. The more Westernised decorations in Shanghai on the other hand do give me that great Christmas feeling.

Now, Christmas decorations outside are all well and good, but what about my own home? I did spend a considerable amount of time on trying to recreate my type of Christmas and in that I have to say China is a land of sheer brilliance and marvel. Specifically Taobao is a wonderland of cheap Christmas decorations; can you believe I got a Christmas tree including decorations and lights for just 20RMB?! Yes, it’s a plastic tree but at least I can reuse it next year. While I wasn’t able to find advent wreaths with candles attached to them as is customary in Germany to mark the four Sunday’s before Christmas, I simply improvised a little. All in all my Christmas decoration added up to just around 100RMB. I daresay one can barely buy one bauble for that amount in Europe.

I did manage to get my hands on some mince pies at Marks and Spencer Shanghai and my mum has sent me heaps of Christmas biscuits and chocolate – Santas, advent calendars – you name it, I’m stuffing it in my face.

What’s more, since Mr Li spent a long time in the UK, he has turned into a Christmas DJ, blasting a constant playlist of carols and Mariah Carey season’s hits.

So Christmas will be a little different than it is back home. A little more gaudy and a little less expensive, but all round just as tasty. Who’s to say that’s a bad thing after all?

Here’s to a very merry, Chinese Christmas!