This time last year we were gearing up, excited for Christmas in Xian, China. We arrive to Xian shortly before Christmas Day eager for the cold bite of winter air, something we miss living here in Southeast Asia. We also arrive expecting little much celebration for Christmas. So on arrival I’m quick out to quiz anyone who could understand me “What happens for Christmas in Xian?”. “People go outside, onto the streets…. but you want to stay inside.” Intriguing, sounds almost dangerous. “So they go to the streets? To do what? Looting” “No they just go outside…”. “Okay now it sounds boring”. So against given advice we were quick out onto the streets to see for ourselves. It turns out there’s a lot of festive cheer for Christmas in Xian; continental markets, fairy lights, Christmas trees. Not so different to any major city of the world, bar maybe the Terracotta Warriors in Santa hats. We didn’t see much Jesus, as expected, but all the other frills which come with. So back at the hotel, still slightly bewildered by the “people go outside, onto the streets” statement, I resort to the TV to shed light on the scenario. The news reporter loiters in mall foyers jumping on overly eager shoppers and couples “What is Christmas all about?” “Shopping.” “Shopping.” “Shopping.” Every reply is shopping. “How much have you spent so far?” Sums are generally higher than my annual income. It seems Christmas in China is popular with the ‘new rich’ and their throwaway money and Christmas Eve is now the biggest shopping day of the year in China. Slightly absurd, but in honesty I don’t mind the commercial side of Christmas. While I don’t get involved myself, I’m not really a scrooge either. If people want to be excited about something, good on them. I like to be excited too, only it’s more for street food or alcohol. So, while I don’t normally get involved, we do on this occasion visiting the centre of it all at the Bell Tower continental markets (outside Starbucks) where Fanfan finds some cute gloves for our onward travels. We feel Christmassy.
The Worst of Christmas
For Christmas Eve we look for celebrations which prove to be few and far between during Christmas in Xian. As last resort we settle with the hotel’s Christmas Dinner (Hantang House) a ‘buffet dinner’ option. Under normal circumstances we’d be put off by the ‘buffet’ option however we were staying at a relatively small hotel which appeared to have low occupancy, so it could be low key and romantic. It also includes “Christmas Turkey” and “Hot Red Wine” so I’m easily sold. On Christmas Eve, arriving back from the Terracotta Warriors Tour, we do get a little excited for our first proper Christmas meal together, sharing my Christmas culture with Fanfan. A romantic night with festive cheer which quickly crumbles around us. Arriving to the downstairs bar / restaurant we find the room already packed to the doors. We’re ushered, and squashed, to two seats at a cramped four seat table. We stare blankly at the long-term traveller and expat sat opposite. “Would you like to do the pleasantries?”…. “I’m sorry, I honestly can’t. We expected something different, we didn’t expect this…” We go on to pester the waitress for a new table, something more private… but it was pointless. The room couldn’t have been fuller. Every expat in Xian seemingly crowded round the same turkey. I can safely say this was me at my rudest, I’d go as far as calling myself a complete dick… but it was no doubt due. We paid in advance, expecting an intimate and romantic night. What we get is two cuts of dry turkey, a paper half cup of mulled wine and the awkwardness of our rudeness. I think the night summed up pretty much everything I hate about Christmas. The unwanted small talk, the food queues and the inevitable anticlimax of everything. After 30 minutes we abandon all hope on salvaging the night and skulk back to our hotel room. So if you’re into socializing, the Hantang House maybe worth a visit for Christmas in Xian… otherwise I’d avoid it. Back at the hotel room we manage to create some last ditch cheer thanks to convenience store beers, a Skype call home, and my dad’s merry slur of “The Night Before Christmas”. This is closer to our tradition.
Christmas Day in Xian
Despite a noisy, sleepless night, I wake early on Christmas day. This was norm for me in China, every morning on the streets around 5am and long before the central Starbucks had considering opening doors. So to make the most of these early hours, I would walk to the local park to sit around, enjoying the nip of winter air and partaking in my favourite pastime of people watching. Me at my happiest in China. So there’s not a whole lot Christmasy around me, but I do feel like it is Christmas. I just feel happy knowing it is Christmas. I think about my family and past times together. I think about the day ahead for them, and the traditions we will be missing out on. I in no way feel lonely. I just feel happy in knowing that all is well. When Fanfan wakes we both spend Christmas day exploring Xian, again, just feeling Christmasy. This would be my third consecutive Christmas away from home, but it felt no different than any other. Christmas is what you make of it, if you chose to be happy you will be happy. If you want to hate Christmas you will. It’s got very little to do with where you are in the world, or even the frills attached.
1 thought on “Celebrating Christmas in Xian (China)”
Thanks for your review, I try to find more information about the weather and events during Christmas at Xian.