Things to Know About Christmas in China

Christmas has arrived in China and we’re ready to celebrate! Despite not being as popular as traditional Chinese lunar holidays like Mid-Autumn and Spring festival, the storied date of December 25th has come to take on its own special role in the Chinese holiday calendar. Over the past several decades, as Christianity continues to spread and globalization reaches cities across the nation, this jovial day has received a warm welcome in the Middle Kingdom, particularly by those younger generations eager to get a taste of western culture.

Chinese people dressed for Christmas

During the days and weeks leading up to Christmas, it’s very common for Chinese students of all ages to exchange Christmas cards, wear costumes and get into the holiday spirit. As a unique Christmas Eve tradition, many young couples present each other with red apples, a custom born out of the Mandarin word for Christmas Eve, which sounds similar to the word for apple. Friends and family members might also take advantage of holiday sales and give each other small gifts, some even purchasing faux Christmas trees to adorn their living rooms. If you find yourself in China during Christmas time, keep your eyes peeled for restaurants offering 八宝鸭 (bā bǎo yā, eight treasures duck), duck stuffed with chicken, ham, shrimp and more — a Chinese-style Christmas dinner!

Chinese people dressed as Santa playing Chinese drums

Chinese people dressed for Christmas

(China Photos — Getty Images — Washington Post)

Here’s what else to expect if you’re in China during the Christmas season:

  • servers, salesclerks, and other attendants may be wearing holiday-themed costumes
  • malls, restaurants, and public places will be playing those oh-so-familiar Christmas tunes — learn how to sing ‘jingle bells’ in Chinese
  • shops of all kinds may be holding special sales, selling winter clothes and seasonal products at massive discount prices
  • public squares and walking streets may be decorated with twinkling lights, red streamers, or even decorated Christmas trees
  • some international restaurants, schools or offices may be closed in observance of Christmas

Chinese woman posing with mechanical Santa while older man sits in nearby oversized ornament

(PhotoThe Atlantic)

Electronic Christmas tree shop in China

(Photo by Dave Tacon/Al Jazeera)

Learn to Sing Jingle Bells in Mandarin

Christmas Themed Chinese Flashcards:

Chinese vocabulary flashcards-Christmas
Chinese vocabulary flashcards-Christmas tree
Chinese vocabulary flashcards-white Christmas
Chinese vocabulary flashcards-candy cane
Chinese vocabulary flashcards-gingerbread man
Chinese vocabulary flashcards-gingerbread house
Chinese vocabulary flashcards-stocking
Chinese vocabulary flashcards-reindeer
Chinese vocabulary flashcards-snowman

Additional Christmas Vocabulary:

Hànzì pīnyīn Definition
1. 圣诞节 shèng dàn jié Christmas
2. 圣诞夜 shèngdàn yè Christmas eve
3. 白色圣诞 bái sè shèng dàn White Christmas
4. 圣诞快乐 shèngdàn kuàilè Merry Christmas
5. 圣诞树 shèngdànshù Christmas tree
6. 拐杖糖 guǎizhàng táng candy cane
7. 礼物 lǐ wù gift/present
8. 圣诞袜 shèngdàn wà stocking
9. 圣诞红 shèngdàn hóng Poinsettia
10. 姜饼屋 jiāng bǐng wū gingerbread house
11. 圣诞卡 shèngdànkǎ Christmas card
12. 圣诞老人 shèngdàn lǎorén Santa Claus
13. 雪橇 xuěqiāo sleigh
14. 麋鹿 mílù reindeer
15. 基督教徒 jī dū jiào tú Christian
16. 雪人 xuě rén snowman
17. 姜饼人 jiāng bǐng rén gingerbread man
18. 报佳音 bàojiāyīn caroling

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The Anatomy of Chinese Characters

Reading and writing Chinese characters is often considered the most ambitious challenge that language students face in order to achieve fluency. Indeed, the intricacies which have shaped this character system over thousands of years are both complex and vast. However, while they may appear bewildering at first, Chinese characters are actually composed of distinct building blocks that form a straightforward and logical structure. Once you grasp a basic understanding of Chinese character anatomy, you will be reading and writing your way across the Middle Kingdom in no time.

the chinese character for husband has evolved over many centuries     Chinese characters are used to illustrate meaning rather than sound original images from


Unlike the Roman alphabet, Chinese characters are used to illustrate meaning rather than sound. In fact, most characters were originally intended as visual representations of physical elements like trees, houses or humans. Evolving since their earliest forms, simplified versions of these symbols, known as character radicals, serve as the foundation for contemporary written Mandarin. Making up approximately 80% of the language, radicals are an essential starting point for anyone who wants to read or write fluently in Mandarin. Jump to the list of the 40 most used Chinese radicals.

chinese characters are used to illustrate meaning rather than sound     chinese characters evolved from visual representations of physical elements

chinese characters used to be visual representations of physical elements
The evolution of the characters 人, 从, and 众. 人=rén=person 从=cóng=from/follow 众=zhòng=crowd.

When two or more radicals are combined, they work together to create a single character; the radical on the left indicates the character’s category or meaning, while the radical on the right might indicate its pronunciation. The majority of the written Chinese language is comprised of character compounds, in which several characters are combined to make one word. Most Chinese dictionaries include about 20,000 characters, though linguists estimate literate speakers know between 5,000 and 8,000. For language learners, being familiar with just 2,000 to 3,000 characters will give you the tools to read most newspapers and magazines.

An important rule to note is that characters are written according to a standardized stroke order, which typically moves from left to right, top to bottom and outside to inside. Skritter is an excellent APP to help you learn stroke order. Although Chinese characters may seem daunting at first, patterns will quickly emerge once you develop a basic foundation. So, review your radicals, familiarize yourself with the most commonly used Chinese characters, and watch as your Mandarin skills grow exponentially!

An Introduction to Chinese Characters

Having a deeper understanding of Chinese characters will help reveal the language’s logic structure as well as China’s history and culture. Watch the following video to delve deeper into the pictographic and ideographic nature of Chinese characters. You’ll learn the difference between the phonetic alphabet and the Chinese character system.


The 40 Most Common Radicals:

There are over 200 radicals that make up Chinese characters, though only a portion of them are regularly used in simplified Mandarin today. Check out the list below to find out the 40 most common character radicals – you might find that you’ve encountered most of them before! Remember, because they serve as the building blocks of the written character system, radicals are absolutely crucial in helping language learners become literate in Mandarin.


No. Radi­cal pīnyīn Eng­lish
1 rén person
2 dāo knife
3 power
4 yòu right hand; again
5 kǒu mouth
6 wéi enclose
7 earth
8 sunset
9 big
10 woman
11 child
12 cùn inch
13 xiǎo small
14 gōng labor;work
15 yāo tiny; small

No. Radi­cal pīnyīn Eng­lish
16 gōng bow
17 xīn heart box
18 dagger;axe
19 shǒu hand
20 sun
21 yuè moon
22 wood
23 shuǐ water
24 huǒ fire
25 tián field
26 eye
27 shì show
28 fine silk
29 ěr ear
30 clothing

No. Radi­cal pīnyīn Eng­lish
31 yán speech
32 bèi cowrie; shell
33 zǒu walk
34 foot
35 jīn gold
36 mén door
37 zhuī short-tailed bird
38 rain
39 shí eat
40 horse

An Overview of the Chinese Zodiac

The Chinese Zodiac, called 生肖 (shēngxiào) or “birth likeness” in Mandarin, is an ancient belief system considered to be a tool for deciding one’s destiny. Following the traditional lunar calendar, this scheme is based on a 12-year cycle in which one of 12 animals is represented with each new year. Last February, as families across the Middle Kingdom gathered together to celebrate Spring Festival, they also welcomed the 10th animal in the rotation, marking 2017 the “Year of the Rooster”. During next year’s Spring Festival, Chinese people will honor the 11th animal in the zodiac cycle, naming 2018 the “Year of the Dog”.

While western astrology emphasizes the day and month that a person was born, the Chinese system regards one’s birth year as the most important factor in determining their fate. An individual’s personality, as well as dramatic events that occur in their life, may all be influenced by the zodiac animal to which they belong. An equally significant but less widespread theory is that each lunar year is also accompanied by one of the five elements: wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. In accordance with the traditional philosophy, these five elements are affected by the delicate balance of Yin and Yang. For example, the lunar year 2018 will be both the “Year of the Dog” and “Yang Earth”, while 2019 will be the “Year of the Pig” and of “Yin Earth”.


There is no single definitive origin story, but rather many legends about how the Chinese Zodiac came to be. In contemporary China, the popular myth goes something like this: The Ruler of Heaven, also called the Jade Emperor, reigned over the universe in pre-historic times. One day, he invited all the animals on Earth to enjoy a banquet in his celestial palace. When they arrived, the Jade Emperor was so thrilled that he decided to gift each animal their own year, based on the order in which they had arrived at his palace that night. Check out the following video for the full story.

The Legend of the Chinese Zodiac

Here’s another very insightful video about the Chinese Zodiac and Chinese culture.



Vocabulary List:

Hànzì pīnyīn Definition
1. shǔ rat
2. niú cow
3. tiger
4. rabbit
5. lóng dragon
6. shé snake
7. 馬 / 马 horse
8. yáng ram
9. 猴子 hóu monkey
10. 雞 / 鸡 chicken
11. gǒu dog
12. 豬 / 猪 zhū pig

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