Plans for Christmas? I haven’t decided yet for sure, but I can tell you one thing—I’ll be spending it with my friends, not my family.
Last year, four of my closest buddies and I walked around the neighborhood of Mong Kok, where there were Christmas carolers on the street. Then we went to have some Cantonese hot pot, a simmering pot of broth that you dip meat, fish balls and vegetables into that was perfect for the winter. Then we went to a karaoke bar, where we sang all night, played some drinking games and talked.
When I got home the sun had almost risen.
Yes, we celebrate Christmas in Hong Kong, as does most of east Asia. But unlike in the West, you’re absolutely not obliged to hang out with your family, and most young people choose to spend the day, and the night, with friends. Some people even rent out rooms and throw big parties, the more the merrier. If you are Christian, you might go to church, but you still wind up with your friends afterwards.
There’s always a special Christmas dinner, but it’s not what westerners usually think of—there’s no home-cooked turkey or ham, and no plum pudding. Instead it is likely to be at a restaurant, from a buffet at a high-end hotel to a casual dinner at a yum cha (dim sum) place.
If you have a partner, then just as in South Korea or Japan, you are expected to spend Christmas together. There are many Cantonese pop songs about how sad it is to be single on the day, the most popular being Lonely Christmas by singer Eason Chan:
“Merry, merry Christmas
Lonely, lonely Christmas
In the waves of people I wanted to confess
But jokes were all you wanted to hear.”
You can still hear people singing the above chorus in karaoke boxes or at gatherings on Christmas, even though it was released more than 10 years ago.
While in the West very few shops are open on Christmas day, Hong Kong’s businesses basically run as usual, and many even prolong their hours or offer festive discounts. Even the city’s public transport extends its service hours to take the party-goers home. Except for the large crowds that you will certainly meet on the streets, there really is little reason to not go out on Christmas.
If you’re worried about heading home for Christmas to political arguments and family stress, Hong Kong can seem pretty enviable.
But a month or so after Christmas is the Chinese Lunar New Year, and THAT will be a whole different story. I will have to visit my all of my relatives, and face the inevitable litany of uncomfortable questions and confrontations, including “Why don’t you have a girlfriend?” “So, how much do people in journalism earn?” and “You didn’t go to the Hong Kong protests, did you?”
Just the thought of it is already exhausting. Oh well, you win some and you lose some. You can’t avoid your family forever, after all.