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The smiling face of Santa Claus is omnipresent all across China. Local governments are decorating trees and lamp posts with lights and ornaments. At first glance visitors would think they were in Europe.
Despite the fact that most Chinese are not Christians, Christmas season has become increasingly popular.
"If you walked around major Chinese cities 15 years ago, you wouldn`t have seen many signs of Christmas. However, if you were to visit those same Chinese cities again today, you`d be surprised to see signs of Christmas almost everywhere," says Cai Jiming, a professor with Tsinghua University, who has served as an expert in developing China`s holiday schedule.
Although Christmas is not a public holiday, many Chinese cities are still getting into the Christmas spirit.
Cai says his e-mail inbox and cell phone have been flooded with messages wishing him a merry Christmas. The greetings have been coming in since the end of November.
In his view, Christmas seems like a "warm-up" for the truly important month-long Spring Festival, which begins on Feb 3 next year.
However, despite the prevalence of Christmas celebrations, for most Chinese, it neither means a religious celebration nor an occasion for family reunions. Instead, it is a time for relaxing with friends, a time to shop, a time to have a party and it is especially a time for romance.
"I expect my boyfriend to take me out on Christmas Eve and I expect a romantic night," says Christine Zhou, 28, a hotel manager in Beijing.
"It seems to me that everything associated with Christmas time is romantic."
On the streets, rose and chocolate peddlers are vying for their business.
Christmas has become another Valentine`s Day, and at the same time, more people feel it is a time to reward themselves with good food and a good time.
However, as more Chinese join in the Christmas celebrations each year, some feel the Western-based festival is harming time-honored traditions.
They fear that passion toward traditional Chinese holidays, particularly among young people, will slowly fade out.
But Cai considers it is unnecessary to boycott a Western cultural festival.
"All important festivals in different cultures have now developed into universal holidays," he says.
"Just like some Europeans celebrate Spring Festival nowadays, it`s no wonder that Chinese celebrate Christmas.”
"As a matter of fact, Chinese culture has developed a lot while embracing cultures from others."