Young Chinese girls pose for a selfie at a shopping mall during Christmas eve in Beijing, China, Sunday, Dec. 24, 2017. Retailers looking for a year end boost in sales find an opportunity in the younger generation's willingness to embrace the western gift giving tradition of Christmas which is not customarily celebrated in China (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
Young women pose for a selfie at a Beijing shopping centre © AP

Chinese officials have put a dampener on Christmas spirit — with some even telling party members and their families not to celebrate the festive season.

Throughout China, local governments, Communist party branches, schools and even shopping malls issued regulations this year suggesting people tone down Christmas parties and decorations.

The government insists there is no actual ban of Christmas in place at the national level but the number of local bans have raised questions about whether there is a behind-the-scenes “war on Christmas” by Beijing. 

Christmas is not a holiday in China but has grown in popularity in recent years, particularly among the young, who see it less in religious terms and more as an excuse to shop. “Some of us like Christmas just because it is exotic, it is a chance to be part of world culture,” said Claire Yu, who was shopping at a mall on Tuesday. The popularity of Christmas is also a barometer of Christianity in China, which has made inroads despite official atheism.

Some of the local regulations are thought to have been inspired by a recent focus by President Xi Jinping on strengthening traditional Chinese values. “We, the Chinese people, have greater confidence in our own culture,” Mr Xi said in his most important speech of the year, the report to the 19th Communist party Congress in October. “Cultural confidence represents a fundamental and profound force that sustains the development of a country and a nation.”

In China’s provinces, social media have published details of local governments banning Christmas for government officials and Communist party members. Security officials in Hengyang, one central Chinese city, published a notice on December 19 telling Communist party members, government officials and their families not to celebrate Christmas. It also said it would fine anyone caught making or selling artificial snow. 

screengrab of Xi JInping meeting Santa Claus in Finland in 2010. From from the YouTube channel of China Global Television, CGTN
Happier times: a film broadcast this year by state-run broadcaster CGTN shows Xi Jinping meeting Santa Claus in Finland in 2010

On Christmas Eve, a provincial division of the China Communist Youth League from the southern province of Anhui published an article on social media that said “enthusiasm for western holidays can easily lead to a loss of faith by party members”.
The Communist Youth League of Shenyang Pharmaceutical University this month also forbade student governing bodies from holding any activities centred on western religious holidays. It said promotional activities by some businesses had left some young people “blindly excited about western holidays”.

Following initial reports about regional bans, China’s censorship authorities ordered the country’s tightly controlled media not to report news related to Christmas, according to instructions leaked on the internet.

China’s official press insisted that talk of a ban on Christmas was exaggerated.

“Westerners mistake local regulations for national ban” on Christmas, read the subheading on an article in the Global Times, a conservative state-run daily, on Christmas Day. 

“Members of the Communist Party of China in major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai have not been informed of any notice that bans Christmas”, said the Global Times. “The ban from some places and institutions was to maintain public security and has nothing to do with ‘boycotting’ Christmas”, it said.

Additional reporting by Sherry Fei Ju

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