Delicious, festive holiday choices abound for expats

Updated: 2013-12-24 23:57

By MIKE PETERS (China Daily)

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Delicious, festive holiday choices abound for expats

A Beijing resident poses with foreign performers in the city's Sanlitun shopping district to celebrate Christmas Eve on Tuesday. Photo by Wang Jing / China Daily

Foreigners in China for Christmas won't need to miss out on their favorite holiday foods and traditions.

Chefs at a slew of restaurants and hotels were spending Christmas Eve roasting turkeys, smashing pumpkins and stirring cranberry sauce to make the night delicious as well as merry and bright.

"This is our eighth Christmas Eve dinner," said Jim Spear, proprietor of a restaurant in Mutianyu in the Beijing suburbs. Spear and his three partners have made the restaurant at their compound a home away from home for expats hungry for traditional holiday meals served family-style.

"We have live jazz," he said, "and after dinner we sing Christmas carols led by my daughter Emily. We have roast goose and all the trimmings — and a lot of dessert with the star a really boozy trifle. Ours is not a religious occasion as we celebrate Christmas in a non-sectarian way with good fellowship and fun open to all."

Secular celebrations abound. On Christmas Eve, revelers in Hong Kong could choose from hotel holiday buffets watching Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker or at a jazzy fashion show at the city's highest-floor club, Ozone, where "glamorously dressed" ladies were admitted free. Shenzhen's OCT Harbor Breeze Beach hosted a dance carnival on the sand, with a fluffy pillow fight and a catwalk show by robots dressed as Hollywood characters.

For many expats, however, the day's focal point is the birth of Jesus Christ.

"Attending Mass in Beijing on Christmas Day is a wondrous gift from God," said Peter Thong, a Malaysian who has been in China for 25 years.

"Christmas is a time for reflection and reinforcement of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ," he said just before attending Mass last night at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Beijing.

"It gives me great joy to celebrate Christmas with people from all over the world in Beijing, an iconic city for internationalism."

No Christmas is complete without mulled wine, a stovetop-simmered concoction of red wine, apple and orange juice, cinnamon and other spices, said Andrew White, the sommelier at a restaurant in the Sanlitun area of Beijing. He's serving up his "secret recipe" on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, along with a traditional dinner.

Being with family is important on Christmas Eve, too, though it's often not possible for foreigners in China.

"Skype is my best friend tonight," said US expat Sam Clemens in Shanghai. "My folks start making cornbread dressing at noon on Christmas Eve, and they exchange gifts after dinner before they go to midnight Mass. This year I am right there with them, thanks to the magic of the Internet."