5 Quirky Christmas Facts

3 min read.

As Christmas comes around this year, let’s take a look at five quirky Christmas facts that you might not be aware about.

1) In China, apples are gifted on Christmas Eve.

When I first went to China in 2008, I held a Christmas gathering with my friends, and many of them had never been to a Christmas party before. 10 years later, I was at another Christmas gathering in China, and they were teaching me variations on Christmas gifting games like “White Elephant”. Celebrating Christmas is becoming more and more popular in China, and one of the more interesting ‘traditions’ they have that are special to them is the gifting of apples on Christmas Eve.

In Mandarin, Christmas Eve is known as Ping An Ye (平安夜) or night of peace when directly translated. This comes from the song “Silent Night” which was translated into Mandarin as Ping An Ye. The first word of Christmas Eve in Mandarin, Ping sounds exactly the same as the first word of apple in Chinese, Ping Guo(苹果); therefore, the gift of an apple symbolizes the gift of peace.

2) Santa Claus plays the saxophone in China.

Anyone living in China would have probably seen Santa Claus mannequins at the mall or in storefronts playing the saxophones. In fact, a search on Taobao for “Santa Claus” in Mandarin, or 圣诞老人 (shèng dàn lǎo rén), “Christmas Old Man” as directly translated brings up three of the first ten hits of items with Santa Claus playing the saxophone. This phenomenon has puzzled both the foreign media (Mark Fisher from the Washington Post) as well as the Chinese media (Helen Gao from Sina.com). Mark Fisher attributes this to Bill Clinton playing the saxophone in “The Arsenio Hall Show” in 1992, which he said was a cultural touchstone of the early 1990s. However, I would be hard pressed to name anyone who knows that Bill Clinton plays the saxophone let alone anyone who has possibly heard of this show in China. The depiction of the saxophone as a Western cultural element should instead be attributed to Kenny G. His works have been played in China since the 90s in upscale Western restaurants and malls, thus providing the embodiment of the saxophone as a Western cultural element.

3) There are both a literal and figurative “Christmas Village” in China.

Literally, in Northeast China’s Heilongjiang province, Mohe, the country’s North-most point, exists a Christmas village. Built in 2010, the project covering more than one million square meters features Santa Claus’s house, a Christmas post office and a Christmas Village Disney Snow Sculpture Park.  A real-life Santa Claus actually lives in Santa’s house, and if you have been a good kid this year, you might even get a present from him!

Santa Claus’s house in the Christmas village of Mohe, China.
Credit: Chinadaily.com

Figuratively, between September 2016 and August 2017, the Hangzhou Customs reported that the factories in the area of Yiwu had produced over USD 3 billion worth of Christmas related goods. As a city with approximately 1.2 million people, Yiwu has long been known for being the biggest small commodity wholesale market in the world. 

4) Japanese families celebrate Christmas with KFC Party Barrels.

Only about one percent of the Japanese population are Christians, and Christmas is not an official holiday. Cooking a big meal all day is thus not an option for most families. In 1974, KFC ran a Kurisumasu ni wa Kentakkii (Kentucky for Christmas) national marketing plan. It took off, filling a void of no Christmas traditions in Japan at that time. According to a report by BBC, KFC Kentucky Christmas Packages now accounts for about a third of the chain’s yearly sales in Japan. KFC even has their own Japanese Christmas jingle titled “Nice Holiday” which is akin to “White Christmas” for Americans.

5) Santa Claus is decked in red and white because of Coca Cola.

Many versions of Santa Claus had been drawn in many different colors and personas prior to 1931 including that of a red elf-like figure in 1862 by Thomas Nast. The most well-known modern image of a pleasantly plump Santa Claus with a white beard in a white fur trimmed red jacket, matching pants and a hat however, came from Michigan-born illustrator Haddon Sundblom. In 1931, The Coca-Cola company commissioned Sundblom to develop advertising images using a wholesome and realistic Santa Claus. They began placing advertisements in popular magazines, store displays, billboards, posters and plush dolls. With the power of advertising, the modern image of Santa Claus was formed.

The 1931 Debut Coke Ad of Sundblom’s Santa in The Saturday Evening Post.
Credit: The Coca-Cola Company