A Chinese Theology Student in the United States shares how Christians in China celebrates Christmas. Even within the same country, there is a big difference between the way of the bigger official churches and that of the house churches.
Yan Ronghui from Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, is currently a student of the Master of Arts in Specialized Ministry at Iliff School of Theology, Denver, under the program sponsored by the General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church (GBGM-UMC), in cooperation with the China Christian Council (CCC).
"There are some differences between the big city churches and small churches, and meeting points (home churches). In bigger city churches, there will be a well designed musical service with nice bulletins, just like a concert performance," said Yan, according to GBGM-UMC.
"City churches will offer wonderful Christmas music, while smaller churches offer food," Yan added. According to Yan, the food refers to both physical ones and spiritual ones.
Yan told the GBGM-UMC reporters that it's hard for the bigger city church to prepare any food because a lot of people will come. However, in smaller churches and home churches, each attendee gets a bag of food as a gift.
All food inside the gift pack has special significance, according to Yan. Candy, which is a reminder of how sweet the great gift of love is to the world; some peanuts, which is a Chinese favorite symbol of a long life, and Jesus promised us eternal life; some fruits found in abundance such as oranges and apples, a reminder of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Recently, some churches put packs of instant noodles in the gift bag, in another play of words, to emphasize getting ready to meet Jesus' second coming.
Moreover, smaller churches including meeting points (home churches) usually begin to celebrate Christmas earlier, so that they can invite some pastors to preach there, Yan said.
"People also travel to different churches to attend different worship services. It's not so strange for some Christians have celebrated more than one Christmas each year!" she continued.
No matter how the bigger churches or the smaller home churches in China celebrate the Christmas, people who come to church will certainly have something special to remember, Yan commented.
"…for the music that sung by Christians has different spirit; the food prepared by churches has Christian prayer for more souls added to the church," she said.
Yan concluded her sharing as stating, "Although Chinese Christians celebrate Christmas in a simple way, we are busy praying for the world, praying for more people to come to Christ, preparing our hearts ready to welcome Jesus who shines out as the light of the world."
Under the religious law of China, protestant churches are required to register places of worship and affiliate themselves with the (Protestant) Three-Self Patriotic Movement/Chinese Christian Council (TSPM/CCC). Spiritual activities in places of worship that have not registered may be considered illegal and participants can be punished. However, many unregistered evangelical Protestant groups still refuse to affiliate with the TSPM/CCC because of theological differences.
According to the international religious freedom report published by the U.S. Department of State, exceptional cases where protestant groups have registered without affiliating with the TSPM/CCC have first emerged in 2004. Examples include the Local Assemblies Protestant churches in Zhejiang Province and the (Korean) Chaoyang Church in Jilin Province, both operate openly without affiliating with the TSPM/CCC.
Indeed, among the general public, majority of the population in China shows little interest in religious activities beyond visiting churches on Christmas Eve or Easter. As many citizens are atheists, they tend to spend their Christmas holidays in a secular way.
Local press reports that the increasingly-affluent Chinese are spending lots of money on Christmas decorations, as the Western holiday becomes increasingly popular.