by Brooke Obie
Stepping off of a 15.5 hour flight from New York City to Guangzhou, China on China Southern Airlines, the last thing I expected to hear was Nat King Cole announcing that "Christmas bells are ringing." But that song playing in the Vanburgh Hotel lobby was indeed my first welcome to China! Though only 5% of the country’s 1.4 billion people are practicing Christians, there are many signs of Christmas in China's major cities.
While December 25 is not an official holiday on mainland China, the Pearl River Delta's autonmous regions Macau and Hong Kong officially recognize Christmas with a day off, since Macau used to be a Portuguese colony and Hong Kong was colonized by the British. Only children receive gifts on Christmas throughout China, but people of all ages celebrate all season long.
From elevators and shopping malls to city landmarks and major attractions, everywhere you turn there’s a Christmas tree or nativity scene, a Santa Claus and classic American holiday music wishing you a Merry Christmas.
Here are some beautiful Christmas decorations from Guangzhou, Zhuhai, Macau and Hong Kong.
This beauty was spotted in the middle of Guangzhou's Vanburgh Hotel, a five-star hotel located in the newer part of the city, just a 10 minute walk from the famous Mall of the World.
This stunning Christmas tree sits just outside of the tallest building in China and the 3rd tallest building in the world--the famous Canton Tower. The nearly 2,000-foot tall tourist attraction has a 360-degree view of the Haizhu District of Guangzhou and the Pearl River.
This tree was spotted at the entrance to the Taigucang Wharf, a tourist destination along the Pearl River with restaurants, shops, river cruises and more. Located in the Haizhu District of Guangzhou, the many warehouses and storage units at the Taigucang Wharf are protection units for cultural relics.
This tree sits outside of Nanyue Jiayan Restaurant, one of the many restaurants on the Taigucang Wharf.
On a nighttime cruise of the Pearl River, the Christmas tree outside of the Canton Tower glows.
Blue Dolphin River Cruises' 1 hour-long tour on the Pearl River showed riders beautiful views inside, as well as out. This tree and snowman were adorned with Chinese banners during a performance.
Christmas trees are so prevalent in Guangzhou that the Chinese people even project them onto the sides of buildings at night. This one is floating just above the Pearl River.
This tree, snowman, reindeer combo was found just outside the entrance to the Chen Clan Ancestral Hall, a Guangdong development built by 72 Chen clans during the Qing dynasty in 1894. The building now houses the Guangdong Folk Art Museum.
These Christmas decorations sit in the lobby of the Chimelong Penguin Hotel, a family-friendly resort just outside of the world's largest ocean theme park, the Chimelong Ocean Kingdom in Zhuhai.
Just a two-hour drive from Guangzhou, the Chimelong Penguin Hotel offers easy access to the Ocean Kingdom as well as fun decorations like these tin man Santas.
Staying on the animal-exhibit theme, these baby elephants at the Penguin Hotel's south exit are all decorated for the holiday.
With 1,888 rooms, the Chimelong Hengqin Bay Hotel is the largest dolphin-themed hotel. Immaculately landscaped with bonsai trees, gardens and Christmas trees, the Hengqin Bay Hotel fuses Japanese, Chinese and Western architecture.
In addition to the Christmas trees, reindeer and lights that abound on the massive estate, the Hengqin Bay Hotel boasts a 1,000 meter Grand Canal that connects to the Ocean Kingdom, and visitors can take a cruise on the river to get to the theme park.
At the arc of the Chimelong Hotel's entrance is this on-theme seahorse, dual-language Christmas decoration, for the 1,200-room hotel's worldwide visitors.
At the entrance to the 2-year-old ocean theme park, aquarium and animal exhibit, this giant Christmas tree wishes you Merry Christmas in both English and Chinese.
At night, the Zhuhai street corners are lit up like Times Square in New York, with locals and tourists roaming local shops and enjoying the mild climate well into late evening. This Christmas tree, in front of a KFC and a McDonald's shows the prevalent Western influence in Zhuhai.
After a trip by car and through Customs from mainland China to one of China's autonomous regions, Macau, you'll arrive at St. Dominic's Square in the region's Historic Centre. Listed on UNESCO's World Heritage List, the Historic Centre of Macau boasts multiple Catholic churches, including the Ruins of St. Paul Church, remnants of its former Portuguese colonizers.
In another public square in Macau's Historic District sits a nativity scene, telling the story of Jesus for eager visitors to explore.
This Christmas display in Macau's historic City Centre wishes you Merry Christmas in English, Chinese and Portuguese.
Just blocks away from the last nativity scene, this larger nativity sits in a park and has a sign telling the story of Jesus' birth in English, Chinese and Portuguese.
Described as the "Vegas" of China, Macau has a similar strip outside of the historic district where visitors and residents alike can enjoy lavish hotels and more. This Christmas display is in the lobby of the 5-star Sheraton Hotel in Macau.
Across from the Sheraton Hotel, in front of the world-famous Venetian Hotel sits this Christmas tree and display wishing you Seasons Greetings.
An hour-long ferry ride (and another trip through Customs) will get you from Macau to China's other autonomous region, Hong Kong. This Christmas Blessing sign is painted at the top of Victoria Peak, a mountain on the western side of Hong Kong Island. Known locally as The Peak, this scenic mountain attraction boasts restaurants, shopping and the best views on the island--especially during Christmastime.
Inside the cozy EurAsian fusion restaurant The Peak Lookout, you can enjoy great food and panoramic views of Hong Kong's Aberdeen Fishing Village at the base of the mountain.
In addition to delicious food options and gorgeous views of Hong Kong, Victoria Peak also offers 2 shopping centers as well as local vendors selling crafts and gifts for tourists. The Galleria Mall is full of the Christmas spirit.
Back at the Guangzhou Airport, this was the last Christmas tree I saw, just outside of the China Southern Airlines VIP lounge, before another 15.5 hour flight back to the States.
Brooke Obie visited China courtesy of China Southern Airlines in December 2016. Her favorite experiences are included here.
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