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Christmas Bells Ring in Beijing


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BEIJING, China - With seventeen days left before Christmas, many people in communist China have just a handful of days to finish their holiday shopping.

Although China is officially an atheist state, in recent years it has allowed people to celebrate this very significant Christian holiday.

"In today's world you cannot just say this is a Western festival or an Eastern festival, because the Christmas atmosphere, it's around everywhere," said Beijing resident Victor Kuo.

"Christmas is becoming more and more important to the Chinese," said business professional Shan Shan Zhao.

Ten years ago, Christmas was all but ignored in Beijing. But as people have become wealthier and enamored by Western culture, the holiday season has gained favor.

Many Chinese people celebrate by decorating their houses with Christmas trees, cooking and eating special foods, and spending time with family and friends

"Christmas is still a Western holiday, but it's becoming more popular than Chinese New Year," said another resident.

"It's been a lot more celebrated than we anticipated," said one American woman. "Especially when you look over there: There's a set up church and manger scene, which is so confusing because this is an officially atheist country."

While Christian Christmas symbols have been taken down in some U.S. cities because of political correctness, at a display in Beijing's Pacific Century Plaza, Mary, Joseph, and the angels herald Christ's birth. They even have a church with pictures of Jesus. But most Chinese here are more interested in the secular parts of Christmas.

"I think that the Christmas tree is most important symbol. The birth of Jesus is religious, so I think Christmas trees and Santa are more important," said Richard Wang, a resident of Beijing.

One 75-year old couple, who lived through some of China's most difficult political days, didn't used to celebrate Christmas. But now they are Christmas shopping for their grandchildren.

"There's more fun," said an elderly man. "We give gifts, sing songs, and always have a good time."

Giving to charity is another part of the Chinese Christmas celebration. At an Operation Blessing sponsored display in downtown Beijing, people gave money to send poor children to school for a year.

Operation Blessing works in partnership with local businesses to encourage Chinese professionals to help those less fortunate during the holiday season.

Kuo said, "They want to contribute their love, their help. I think that's also the meaning of the festivals and the holidays."

''It's a big festival and it's a festival of love," said Becky Gao, a charity organizer.

A lot of shopping malls are already feeling the buzz from the holiday season. Most stores are expecting record sales. Some stores have even extended their opening hours to midnight in the lead up to Christmas.

While many embrace the Christmas spirit, others worry about the loss of Chinese tradition.

One man said, "From an economic standpoint, it's good because people are buying the things that ten years ago they couldn't possibly think of buying. But the negative side is we're losing the tradition."

But with so many in China now celebrating Christmas, it has developed a strong Chinese flavor and is quickly becoming a new Chinese tradition.