The Explainer is where we explain an aspect of Chinese life. Simple. So now you know.
Christmas might not be a public holiday in China – the country has virtually no cultural ties to the festival, which has its roots in Western Christianity. (Ironic, given that most of the world’s Christmas decorations are produced here).
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But in recent years, the holiday has become more popular on the mainland, especially among young Chinese people. That has given rise to the adoption of seasonal traditions, some of which are classically Western and others which are distinctly Chinese.
Enter the tradition of giving apples. Ever wonder why you may have been receiving them from Chinese friends and coworkers this Christmas? Over the past decade, gifting apples on Christmas Eve has become so popular in China that the price of the fruit has actually risen every December 24. The new (and slightly puzzling) tradition dates back to at least the past decade, reports the Los Angeles Times.
When typing ‘Christmas’ into the Hema app, Christmas apples are the first search result. Screengrab via Hema
But why apples? According to The World of Chinese, the tradition is rooted in homophones. In Mandarin, ‘Christmas Eve’ translates to Ping’anye (平安夜, the evening of peace), which also happens to sound a bit like the Chinese word for ‘apple’ or pingguo (苹果). Chinese people have taken the cleverness one step further and given a special name to these Christmas apples: ping’anguo (平安果), or ‘peace apples.’
Image via @翻斗花园张奶奶/Weibo
Usually wrapped in boxes or colorful paper and decorated with cartoons, ribbons, or even Christmas messages printed on their skin, peace apples tend to be more expensive because they’re more like a present than produce on this day of the year.
Image via @想做一颗甜柚/Weibo
Peace apples are supposed to show how much you care for the person you’re gifting them to, according to The World of Chinese:
In order to show the person how lasting your love is, the apple shouldn’t come easy. You can’t just buy it from a corner store – you need to beg for it! (Of course, not from the corner store owner). You have to buy the apple with 24 one jiao coins, asked for from 24 friends with 24 different last names. One jiao equals 10 cents or, in Chinese, ‘shi fen (十分)’ which sounds the same as ‘perfect.’ And 24 friends? One explanation is that there are 24 solar terms in the lunar calendar so it represents a whole year.
So for all you last-minute Christmas shoppers who still don’t have that perfect gift picked out, then you just might be in luck: Your local grocery store may have what you need after all.
How do you like them apples?
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This article was originally published in December 2015. It has been updated and republished on December 24, 2020.
[Cover image via China Daily]