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.
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.
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.
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.