Santa Claus is no longer welcome in a Chinese city where local authorities this year banned all things Christmas.
The grinch is the municipal management of Langfang, a city of four million southeast of Beijing. According to a notice issued by local officials, government employees must report public Christmas displays and celebrations to their higher-ups. Vendors selling holiday-related items are to be "cleared out."
The smoggy Chinese city's heart wasn't two sizes too small. Christmas was banned in the name of "maintaining stability" and avoiding social unrest, which is of great importance to Chinese government. That could mean the extreme surveillance measures ubiquitous in the restive Xinjiang region or cracking down during festive times of year — the deadly stampede that killed 36 people on New Year's Eve of 2014 in Shanghai still gives people the chills.
Or it could mean outlawing sales of Christmas socks.
The Western religious festival is not a public holiday in mainland China, where an estimated 5 percent of the population is Christian. But that doesn't stop non-Christians from having fun and spending money. Shopping, feasting, singing karaoke and partying hard are how China's growing middle-class celebrates Christmas, a phenomenon that seems to have emerged in the early 2000s. The Chinese have even invented their own Christmas tradition: eating apples on Christmas Eve, which is said to bring good luck. (The words "apple" and "Christmas Eve" are pronounced similarly in Chinese.)
In recent years, the atheistic Chinese Communist Party has taken a hard-line stance on most religions. The government has demolished Christian churches, evicted congregations that meet in people's homes and detained outspoken pastors and bishops. Chinese President Xi Jinping has urged authorities to "guide and educate the religious circle" — religious organizations, clergy and worshipers — "and their followers with the socialist core values."
Langfang is not the first Chinese city to ban Christmas. Also this month, Hengyang in the Hunan province sent a notice forbidding Christmas celebrations on the streets and asking Communist Party members to set an example by boycotting Christmas. Last December, college students in the Hunan province protested the holiday, wearing traditional clothing and carrying signs asking people to "resist Christmas." Elementary schoolers in the western province of Shaanxi swore under the national flag in November 2017 to "say no to Western festivals. Start with myself. Pass down traditions. Celebrate Chinese festivals."
As always, people took to Weibo, the Chinese Twitter, to debate the issue.
"I'm OK with not celebrating Christmas," said a Chinese netizen that supports the ban. "We blindly follow the West and have ignored Chinese traditions."
Those on the other side believe the bans only show the government's insecurity.
"Why don't we boycott Marxism? It came from the West, too," joked a Weibo user.