Christianity's most important holiday is a big event here, but state regulation of religion and a suspicion of all things Western can sometimes get in the way. And, yes, it's too commercialized.
A man dressed as Santa Claus walks past two security guards in downtown Shanghai / Reuters
It's that time of the year again. Santa smiles from the glass doors of hair salons and pharmacies; "Joy to the World" plays in busy shopping malls; plastic trees laced with blinking lights stand in front of restaurants and bars, their dark green softened by the ruby glow of lanterns hanging under the eaves. And written on banners on university campuses and flashing in neon in business districts are the characters, "圣诞快乐!". The world's most widely celebrated religious holiday is in full swing here, in the center of communist China.
Christmas is young in China -- it did not enter mainstream society until well into the 1990s -- and is embraced mainly by the younger generation. According to a well-regarded Chinese business magazine, 70 percent of the people celebrating it here are below age 38. First introduced to the country by western missionaries, it found popularity in 1920s and 30s among converted Christians and in elite circles. Peasants feasted with their priests inside farmhouses; businessmen toasted over candles with foreign trade partners. In 1949, after the Communist Party took power, all things Western were labeled "mental poison" and Christmas gradually became a concept so foreign that people took little interest in it.