Tourists take photos in front of the Christmas display at 1881 Heritage in Tsim Sha Tsui.
Travel

Christmas in Hong Kong is commercialism at its finest

Dec 24, 2018

Tonight on Christmas Eve, shopping malls across Hong Kong will be packed with revelers partaking in a decades-old tradition: counting down the seconds to Christmas Day.

The tradition started in 2000, when the shopping mall Harbour City hosted a giant Christmas bash along Canton Road, a major thoroughfare.

The festival included a midnight countdown similar to one on New Year’s Eve, and drew hundreds of thousands of spectators each year.

Revelers ring in Christmas at the midnight party on Canton Road in 2009.
Revelers ring in Christmas at the midnight party on Canton Road in 2009. / Photo: Dickson Lee/SCMP

The large-scale event has not been held since 2014, after the pro-democracy “umbrella protests,” but many malls still hold indoor celebrations to attract shoppers. One even invited a K-pop group to perform and lead the countdown this year.

An advertisement for shopping mall APM’s Christmas Eve celebration includes the K-pop boy group ONF.
An advertisement for shopping mall APM’s Christmas Eve celebration includes the K-pop boy group ONF. / Photo: APM

This unusual tradition is the result of Christmas’ secularization in Hong Kong. Only about 10 percent of the population is Christian, but as a former British colony, Hong Kong still recognizes Christmas and Boxing Day as public holidays.

As a result, Christmas has been completely stripped of its spirituality and fuzzy warmness, at least for most of the non-religious population.

It’s commercialism at its most extreme.

It’s become a purely commercial holiday, with shopping malls using the occasion as an opportunity to put on events, such as the midnight countdown, and offer discounts to entice people to spend. It’s commercialism at its most extreme.

The mall displays are pretty cool, though.

Christmas decorations at the Landmark in Central.
Christmas decorations at the Landmark in Central. / Photo: Dickson Lee/SCMP
A display at Harbour City mimics the experience of being inside a kaleidoscope.
A display at Harbour City mimics the experience of being inside a kaleidoscope. / Photo: Dickson Lee/SCMP
The holiday display at New Town Plaza in Sha Tin is based off “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.”
The holiday display at New Town Plaza in Sha Tin is based off “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.” / Photo: New Town Plaza
A library-themed installation at Pacific Place in Admiralty.
A library-themed installation at Pacific Place in Admiralty. / Photo: Pacific Place

For what it’s worth, Christmas in Hong Kong is a case study of Western culture performed—and a reminder of the holiday’s global reach. When such a broad concept like Christmas is exported to other countries, we can expect it to be pared down, warped, and reshaped into something completely different from its original premise.

After all, there are many ways to celebrate Christmas.

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