New Year and Christmas in China

New Year and Christmas in China

One of the world's oldest civilization and a non-Christian society, China still manages to celebrate the spirit of the Season with a great celebration.
China does not officially recognize Christianity, but unofficial estimates put the number at almost 10 million baptized Christians living in the country, which makes a large part of the entire population. Christian missionaries arrived in China in 625 AD, and set up base in Xian (an ancient capital). That their base existed is apparent from several specimens of contemporary art found in excavations, art that depicts Christianity related phenomena such as Nativity scenes. One example is a nativity scène which is carved in wood and plaster and has been dated to circa A.D. 780. This was found on a shadowy wall of a crumbling 1,200-year-old pagoda on the windswept hillside of a Tao monastery in 1999. The scene is a fascinating mixture of Eastern and Western spirituality.
It is widely believed that the celebration of Christmas in China has been brought into the country by people who have been out to Japan, where the season is fast becoming a time for booming business. So the Chinese have also started erecting Christmas Trees, got from Southern China's Export processing zone. These are affectionately called `Trees of Light' and are studiously decorated with paper lights, paper lanterns, paper flowers, paper chains and toys. Children, like everywhere else in the world, put up stockings to woo their Santa Claus, the Old man they call Dun Che Lao Ren or Lan Khoong, often dressed just like Santa anywhere else. Large malls and stores have Santa dressers handing out gifts and sweets to kids. However, Christmas feast, whether lunch or dinner, have more in common with traditional Chinese festival banquets than traditional Western feast. However what does not change is the spirit of festivity. The Chinese Christmas cake is different from the traditional cake in that it is steamed, so that makes it like the Christmas pudding of the West.
The Christmas Cake is a steamed sponge and is served with fresh fruits, very often strawberries.
For this cake one needs a cup of flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 5 eggs, ½ spoon cream of tartar, ¾ cup sugar, 1 tsp almond extract and ¼ tsp salt.
This cake is steamed in a wok, so you need to prepare a lined cake tin and prepare the wok for steaming.
Sift the salt and baking powder into the flour and set aside. Separate the eggs and keep aside. In another bowl, beat the egg whites till they are frothy and then adding cream of tartar, beat again. Add about a quarter cup of sugar and beat again. Add the yolks and the remaining sugar and beat some more. Stir in almond extract. Finally, stir in the flour mixture, stirring all the time in only one direction, but do not beat. Put the batter in the cake pan, bring the water to a boil and place the cake tin in the steamer. Steam covered, for about 40 minutes. Cool when ready (when a skewer or toothpick comes out clean) and turn over. This cake can be served with fresh fruits, gifted or had at home, apart from the Christmas lunch.
During Christmas eve, people dine with friends and family, and exchange gifts. Traditional dinners are available at restaurants. Super-markets and malls are the places where most of the Christmas goodies are also sold, along with decorations and home-cooked food.
Over the last few years, the midnight Mass at Christmas has also become a tremendously popular phenomenon, more out of curiosity than anything else. Again, since Christianity is not an officially recognized religion in China, the country makes up for the religious fervor during Christmas by celebrating the New Year. It has been popularized as the Spring Festival, a time to celebrate youth, happiness and life. Children receive new clothes, new toys and great food, and enjoy various forms of celebrations like firecracker shows, fairs and fetes. The sober side of the celebrations is the worship of ancestors (is any celebration in Asia complete without ancestors making their presence felt? One wonders), when their portraits and paintings are given a place of great respect in homes.
Neighboring Hong Kong, however, celebrates December 27th as a major Taoist festival, Ta Chiu, though not on the scale of Christmas. Ta Chiu is a community occasion of celebration, at the end of which the names of everybody in the neighborhood is written on a piece of paper, attached to a paper horse and burned, in the hope that they will rise to heaven.
It may be prudent to mention here that this sudden interest in things foreign, particularly celebrations not native to a culture as solidly ancient and particular as China, may well be aimed at the business tourist, trying to make up their minds for partnering with China's economic boom. Whatever it may be, China, today celebrates Christmas as any other Western society.
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