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Ways of celebrating Christmas: traditional and untraditional
2014-12-04
By Shen Pengyuan

THROUGHOUT history, religious scriptures and historical records have inspired Christians to develop many ways to celebrate Christmas. Since Christmas has been widely celebrated in many countries, including those whose populations are mostly non-Christian, the ways to mark the festival vary from country to country, and sometimes people forget the holiday, for all its commercialism, still has religious roots.

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In fact, almost all modern Christmas traditions, no matter the country, have little to do with the fact that the day marks the traditional birth of Jesus. Santa Claus in China seems to be fond of playing a saxophone, and young people in China enthusiastically send apples to their Mr/Ms Right on Christmas Eve.

The quickly changing world, blessed with the convenience of computers and the Internet, has profoundly changed how many people celebrate Christmas. With a few mouse clicks and keyboard strokes, people can do their Christmas shopping, send Christmas cards to family and friends and even try some typical Christmas recipes at home.

Christmas Markets and Online Shopping

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Shopping is an indispensable and pleasurable part of Christmas preparations. Traditionally, Christmas markets are good places to shop and take a stroll. Generally held in the town square and adjacent pedestrian zones, Christmas markets sell food, drinks and seasonal items from open-air stalls, accompanied by traditional singing and dancing. Although Christmas markets are believed to have originated in Germany, Austria and other parts of Europe, they now can be found even in Shanghai, adding original Christmas charm to an oriental metropolis with more than 170,000 foreign residents. Are you longing for Christmas markets full of festive atmosphere in Shanghai? Check the list on the right.

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While there’s no substitute for strolling in an old-style Christmas market, online companies are increasingly grabbing the booming business opportunities during the Christmas shopping season. In the UK in 2010, up to £8 billion (US$12.5 billion) was expected to be spent online at Christmas, approximately a quarter of total retail festive sales. In China, online shopping volume has soared tremendously in recent years, and using e-commerce has been a fashionable and pleasant experience. You can buy almost anything online — from Christmas gifts to fresh food ingredients for Christmas dinner.

Here are three shopping websites dedicated to providing fresh food, including vegetables, fruits, meats and poultry, fish and seafood, grains and oils, beverages, and snacks.

They are FIELDS (www.fieldschina.com); shop. TooToo.cn (www.tootoo.cn); and yiguo.com (www.yiguo.com).

The food products sold on these websites are supplied by certified organic farms, and they are transported through cold chain facilities, ensuring the best nutrition and flavor.

Excellent recipes can also be found on FIELDS, which offers them in Chinese, English, French, Japanese and Korean.

Lucia Barbaric, a Croatian who works in Shanghai, told Shanghai Daily about her online shopping experience.

“I’m very impressed by the popularity of online shopping in China,” she said. “I seldom do shopping online in Croatia, but now I frequently buy things online after I came to China, just like my friends do.”

When asked whether she would buy food like beef and fish for her Christmas dinner, she said that she would like to have a try. “That is cool! The delivery of goods is very fast in large cities like Shanghai, and I think the online shopping services are reliable.”

Physical Cards vs. E-cards

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Greeting cards exchanged between friends and family members are another major Christmas tradition. Christmas cards featuring artwork, commercially designed and relevant to the season, are purchased in huge quantities. But with the rising awareness of environmental protection, the use of greeting cards and also of cutting live Christmas trees have aroused controversy. Some 1.9 billion Christmas cards are sent in the United States each year, and live Christmas tree purchases total more than 20 million.

There are solutions for those who want to celebrate in a more environmentally friendly way. Many families now put up artificial trees, which are made of plastic or other materials and can be used year after year. They have become more sophisticated and beautiful over the years.

And the emergence of exquisite e-cards bring delight to people who receive them. Sending e-cards also can be less time-consuming.

“I can design very cool Xmas cards with my computer, and they are distributed to millions of netizens,” said Michael Wang, a computer geek. “And my friends are delighted to receive my unique designs featuring Chinese cultures on traditional festivals.”

Of course, not everyone is a master at designing e-cards, but there are websites you can turn to. Take Blue Mountain (www.bluemountain.com) for example, which has many wonderfully designed Christmas e-cards featuring fairyland-style animations, graceful music and even interactive tags. AmericanGreetings (www.americangreetings.com), FastEcard (www.fastecard.com), and Rattlebox (www.rattlebox.com) are also good choices. These websites enable you to send personalized e-cards to your friends direct to their e-mail boxes.

Websites also inspire some who want to exchange physical cards to design their own.

“I prefer to design a traditional card with paper and pen by myself,” said Seet, an international student from South Korea, “because it expresses my greetings to friends in a better way, and handwriting is more precious in an era flooded with e-mails.”

His opinions are shared by some other young people.

Christmas Dinner

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The climax of the festival falls on Christmas Eve, and it is celebrated in different ways around the world. Elements common to many cultures include going to special religious observances such as a midnight Mass or Vespers, and the giving and receiving of presents. A special family meal is traditionally an important part of the holiday celebration.

Preparations for the Christmas dinner at home can be full of fun and anticipation, especially if there are skillful cooks among your family members or friends.

For those curious to learn some typical culinary skills for Christmas, popular recipes abound online. Culinary.net (www.culinary.net), allrecipes.com, Recipe (www.recipe.com), Chef 2 Chef (www.chef2chef.net), and Food Network (www.foodnetwork.com) are all nice platforms with videos to help you practice cooking.

An alternative to preparing the big dinner yourself is turning to a catering service, which will offer roasted turkey, ham or whatever else you order.

In Shanghai, lots of hotels provide dinners on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, although they can be quite expensive.

Pudong Shangri-la Hotel will provide a buffet service at the price of 788 RMB (US$128) per customer.

In China, dining out with family members and friends on the eve of Spring Festival is very popular, as many restaurants remain open. That’s not the case in many Western countries on Christmas, where restaurants often close to give their employees a chance to be home with their families. For expatriates in Shanghai who are far away from their family members and friends, dining out may be a good idea.

In an era of globalization, cultural exchanges expand robustly. Christmas has become popular among young people in many of China’s cities, especially Shanghai and Beijing. Along with China’s young generation, the increasing number of foreign residents living in China are likely to celebrate Christmas in diverse ways. The spirit of Christmas will always be sharing happiness with each other.

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