A Holly Jolly Christmas

China´s equivalent of Santa

During my research, I came across an interesting parallel to our Western gift-giver.

Obviously, Chinese culture has had a similar divine gift-bringer since ancient times. Shou Xing (pronounced Sho’u Sheeng), which means „old man from the South Pole“, is a god of Taoism and symbolizes the wish for a long life. He is connected to the star Canopus.

If you’ve never heard of it, don’t worry. It is rarely seen in the northern hemisphere. In China, it is called the „Star of the South Pole“. It barely crosses the horizon and has a reddish color. Red, the color of Santa Claus (but not St. Nicholas), is the lucky color par excellence in China. It also stands for long life.

Shou Xing is portrayed as an old man and, according to legend, flipped around the fate of a boy by changing his age of death from 19 to 91. Hence his second name “Old Man in the Southern Pole Star“.

The first emperor is said to have offered him the first sacrifices in around 246 BC. Even today, this star is revered, but now in the form of a smiling old man, who is depicted together with two deer, holding a peach in one hand.

There are also many parallels with the western Santa in terms of appearance. High forehead, hat, origin from the cold and even form a polar region. Winter deities with similar attributions exists among the ancient Greeks (see the god Boreas). Maybe there is more to it after all. I knew it, Santa is real!

Thus, we might have a lot of ingredients for a Chinese adaptation of Santa Claus in the guise of a local variation that could convince even the most die-hard traditionalists to love Santa.

A recommended discussion

If you´d like to find out more about Christmas in China, you should watch the half-hour long broadcast of the English-language Chinese TV station CGTN. They discuss about the extent to which Christmas must be avoided as a bad Western influence or whether one should celebrate it. A variety of arguments are exchanged, and we get a good impression of how the debate is conducted here in China.

How do Chinese celebrate Christmas?

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