It's that time of year again! Wishing you a Merry Shanghai Christmas

Andy Boreham
Andy Boreham interviewed several foreigners about what it's like celebrating Christmas in Shanghai, and what they hope to receive from Santa.
Andy Boreham
Shot by Andy Boreham. Edited by Andy Boreham. Subtitles by Wang Xinzhou and Andy Boreham.

As someone who doesn’t celebrate Christmas, this time of year really holds no sense of meaning for me, so I don’t mind at all living in Shanghai and going to work on December 25. But I know that’s not the same for every expat. 

I grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness which meant, apart from going to church three times a week and selling religious magazines on Saturday mornings, we didn’t celebrate anything. No Easter, no Halloween, no birthdays, and no Christmas. 

At the time it was pretty tragic — once I got in trouble when my brother told mom I accepted a piece of birthday cake from my primary school teacher — but now I’m kind of relieved not to be burdened down by such traditions, although it’s not always fun for those around me. 

That includes many of Shanghai’s expats who probably wish they could be with their loved ones back home for the festive season, but instead find themselves working or studying like any normal day here in China.

This week I interviewed several foreigners about what it’s like celebrating Christmas here, and what they hope to receive from Santa.

Yolanda vom Hagen, Germany

Yolanda has been living in Shanghai since 2010 and is working as a self-employed photographer. 

“Christmas is usually one of the very rare times where the family can get together and spend some nice time together eating and showing our love,” she told me. But since she lived in China, she’s had the opportunity to remove herself from the traditional expectations of the season and forge her own traditions.

“I’ve organized hotpot gatherings with my Chinese friends, or maybe some leftover foreign friends, and afterwards we would go to KTV.”

But last year she spent Christmas Day alone for the first time. “It was also very beautiful, so I put a candle and did some meditation ... It wasn’t anyhow a sad thing, it was just something very new to me and I was very open.” 

So, what does she want for Christmas this year?

“Just some warmth, some gathering, and some ... just love, I think.”

Raldy Lucas, the Philippines

Raldy has been here in Shanghai for 12 years working in the food and beverage industry. 

“For me, Christmas is a celebration of our savior Lord Jesus Christ who was born on December 25, and gathering families.”

His favorite Christmas memory is all his family getting together, and while he doesn’t always make it back home to celebrate each year, he still gets together with other Filipino expats here in Shanghai.

“We have a strong Filipino community that gather for Christmas, so you can still feel (like) home even (though) it’s away from home.”

Andy Niedermeier, the US

First and foremost, Andy describes himself as a musician. He has three singles available online now, all produced in his spare time. But during the day he’s in his first year studying business at New York University Shanghai. 

“To me, Christmas is just a time to spend time with family, usually just a day in, maybe in front of the fire and having a good time.”

One of his favorite Christmas memories was back in Philadelphia two years ago when the area experienced a power blackout. “Coincidentally for that Christmas, we got these big blankets, so we all just huddled around with these blankets and it was a really nice time.” 

Ella-Mae Storm-Eckersley, the UK

Ella-Mae, 16, just recently arrived in Shanghai with her parents after her dad was offered a management role for a small UK company in the city. 

She’s currently at a local high school and plans to stay for at least another two years before attending university back home in the UK. 

“Christmas means a lot to me, it’s my favorite time of year,” she said. “You can spend time with your family and your friends and just enjoy the little moments.” 

Ella-Mae would love to get lots of presents for Christmas, but she’s more excited about getting to spend time with her family and her pet dog, Lunar, which is flying into China on December 23. 

On Christmas Day, the whole family will take Lunar for a walk around their new neighborhood for the first time. “Then we’ll have a relaxing night in and maybe watch some Christmas movies together.”

Special Reports