Joy to the World On Christmas Sunday

Ryan moved to the United States from Guangzhou, China at the age of twelve, and has lived in three U.S. cities and two different continents since then. Ryan received his Master of Divinity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and is currently serving as a church planting resident at New City Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati, OH, his US hometown. Before moving to Boston for seminary, Ryan lived in Washington D.C. for seven years, first as a student at Georgetown University and later working for a law firm. It was during his time in D.C. that Ryan met his wife, Abigail, who shares his love for history and classical music. In his free time, Ryan likes to watch Chinese dramas, cook, swim, and listen to Beethoven.

As I have written several times before, Christmas in America always reminds me of Spring Festival in China. From the red decorations to the festive air, from family gatherings to gift giving, these two large holidays have a lot in common. Come to think of it, both occasions mark the beginning of a new year in their own way. The Spring Festival marks the beginning of a new year in the Chinese lunar calendar, and Advent marks the beginning of a new year in the church calendar. 

However, over the past several years, I have noticed one major difference between how the Eastern and Western cultures celebrate these major holidays. Christmas in America is what I would consider an “internal holiday.” My impression of the “ideal” Christmas is of a family sitting around the living room, exchanging presents, and playing with new toys. Many of us do make long drives or take long flights to visit our families during this season, but on the actual holiday itself, very few people are outside or on the road. Restaurants are mostly closed; the streets are eerily quiet. During the three Christmases I have spent with my wife’s family in Champaign, IL, I don’t think we even made it out of the house. This is also true for Thanksgiving as well. Many people may travel to visit families, but the main celebration is carving up the turkey in the dining room.

Chinese Spring Festival, on the other hand, is what I would consider an “external holiday.” From the first day to the seventh (most companies give employees seven days off), I do not remember ever spending a day at home with just my parents. We would go visit the homes of our relatives, or they would come visit us. We would walk around flower markets (花街) and play with firecrackers on the street. Restaurants are full of people; vendors and grocers bring in huge profits because people are buying fruit and presents for visiting each other. The general atmosphere over the whole season is what we called 热闹, literally translated as “warm and noisy.” It is almost the direct opposite of the silent nights and peaceful Christmas days in America.  

That is not to say we do not have any “external holidays” in America. Our 4th of July and Halloweens are some of the most 热闹 (warm and noisy) celebrations I have ever seen. But when it comes to Thanksgiving and Christmas, we tend to stay at home – at least that is my personal experience with these holidays in America for the past seventeen years.

This presents a challenge for churches in years like 2016, when Christmas falls on a Sunday. How do we hold Sunday services without being too disruptive to people’s family traditions? Will people even come to church on Christmas Sunday, especially when we just had a Christmas Eve service the night before? At least for my own church – and the church I was attending last time this happened – we are planning to have a shorter service so that folks can spend the rest of the day with their families. 

I totally understand the desire to spend quality time with families over the holiday. Many of us only get to see our families once or twice a year. But I attended an event last weekend that reminded me of my other family. It was a Christmas celebration in a suburban town in Ohio. There were songs, dances, and stories about Christmas traditions in Ghana, the Caribbean, India, Iran, Malaysia, and China. As I sat there listening to these stories, I realized that as exotic as these traditions may be, as different as they are from what we do in America, there is really no such thing as a ‘normal’ Christmas. Christmas belongs to ‘them’ as it belongs to ‘us.’ Jesus is the light to the nations, and this light shines just as much in the darkness of China as it does in the darkness of America.

Christmas is not a national holiday in China (and in many other nations), and I do not imagine that my relatives in China will be getting together to sing carols and exchange presents. But I am willing to bet with my life that in China, in other parts of Asia, in the Middle East, in Africa, in South America, there are thousands of followers of Jesus who will be risking their livelihood to gather on this Christmas Sunday for no other reason than being together to celebrate our hope in the birth of Christ. I know Christians in recent years have often only held services on Christmas Eve, but this Christmas Sunday should be especially meaningful because we will not only be celebrating with our earthly families, but also with our brothers and sisters around the world. Even the closest earthly families are only foretastes of the communion of the saints we have in God’s eternal kingdom, and this Christmas Sunday we will have a chance to celebrate both.  


Never miss a story

Sign up to receive our weekly email with our original articles.

Share This Story

Further Reading

Nanjing: Loving People Through Prayer
Read More
Nanjing: Love Under Pressure
Read More
Why Should I Love My Enemies?: Give Up Revenge, Love Enemies
Read More


With rising pressure and persecution in China, there are two challenges imperative for church leaders. The first challenge is for current leaders to love Christ above all else, and not to stray into legalism or love of the world. The second challenge is to raise up the next generation of leaders, who will humbly model Jesus even if current leaders are arrested.


  1. Current leaders to grow in their daily walks with Christ
  2. Current leaders to shepherd and raise up new leaders
  3. New leaders who love Christ and will model him to the world
  4. New leaders to love and care for the church



About Shenyang

Shenyang is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Liaoning Province. It is known for its rich history and cultural heritage, including the Shenyang Imperial Palace, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Shenyang is also a hub for China’s heavy industry, with companies such as the China First Automobile Group and the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation having their headquarters in the city.


Stories from Shenyang

About Qingdao

Qingdao is a city located in eastern China and is famous for its beaches, beer, and seafood. The city is home to several landmarks, including the Zhanqiao Pier and the Badaguan Scenic Area. Qingdao is also a major port and has a thriving economy, with industries such as electronics, petrochemicals, and machinery.


Stories from Qingdao

About Xiamen

Xiamen is a city located in southeastern China and is a popular tourist destination known for its beautiful coastal scenery, including Gulangyu Island, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city is also a hub for China’s high-tech industry, with companies such as Huawei and ZTE having research and development centers in Xiamen.


Stories from Xiamen

About Chongqing

Chongqing is a city located in southwestern China and is a major economic center in the region. The city is known for its spicy cuisine, especially its hot pot dishes, and is also famous for the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydroelectric dam. Chongqing is also home to several historic sites, including the Dazu Rock Carvings, which are UNESCO World Heritage sites.


Stories from Chongqing

About Nanjing

Nanjing is a city located in eastern China and is the capital of Jiangsu Province. It is one of China’s ancient capitals and has a rich cultural history, including the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum, the Nanjing City Wall, and the Confucius Temple. Nanjing is also a modern city with a thriving economy and is home to several universities, including Nanjing University and Southeast University.


Stories from Nanjing

About Changchun

Changchun is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Jilin Province. It is known for its rich cultural heritage and is home to several historical landmarks such as the Puppet Emperor’s Palace and the Jingyuetan National Forest Park. Changchun is also a hub for China’s automotive industry, with several major automobile manufacturers having their headquarters in the city.


Stories from Changchun

About Guangzhou

Guangzhou, also known as Canton, is a city located in southern China and is the capital of Guangdong Province. It is one of the country’s largest and most prosperous cities, serving as a major transportation and trading hub for the region. Guangzhou is renowned for its modern architecture, including the Canton Tower and the Guangzhou Opera House, as well as its Cantonese cuisine, which is famous for its variety and bold flavors. The city also has a rich history, with landmarks such as the Chen Clan Ancestral Hall, the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, and the Temple of the Six Banyan Trees. Additionally, Guangzhou hosts the annual Canton Fair, the largest trade fair in China.


Stories from Guangzhou

About Kunming

Kunming is a city located in southwest China and is the capital of Yunnan Province. Known as the “City of Eternal Spring” for its mild climate, Kunming is a popular tourist destination due to its natural beauty and cultural diversity. The city is home to several scenic spots, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Stone Forest, Dian Lake, and the Western Hills. Kunming is also famous for its unique cuisine, which features a mix of Han, Yi, and Bai ethnic flavors. The city has a rich cultural history, with ancient temples and shrines like the Yuantong Temple and the Golden Temple, and it’s also a hub for Yunnan’s ethnic minority cultures, such as the Yi and Bai peoples.


Stories from Kunming

About Shenzhen

Shenzhen is a city located in southeastern China and is one of the country’s fastest-growing metropolises. The city is renowned for its thriving tech industry, with companies such as Huawei, Tencent, and DJI having their headquarters in Shenzhen. The city also has a vibrant cultural scene, with numerous museums, art galleries, and parks. Shenzhen is also known for its modern architecture, such as the Ping An Finance Center and the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center. Despite its modernization, Shenzhen also has a rich history and cultural heritage, with landmarks such as the Dapeng Fortress and the Chiwan Tin Hau Temple.


Stories from Shenzhen

About Chengdu

Chengdu is a city located in the southwestern region of China, and the capital of Sichuan province. It has a population of over 18 million people, and it is famous for its spicy Sichuan cuisine, laid-back lifestyle, and its cute and cuddly residents – the giant pandas. Chengdu is home to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, where visitors can observe these adorable creatures in their natural habitat. The city also boasts a rich cultural heritage, with numerous temples, museums, and historical sites scattered throughout its boundaries. Chengdu is a city of contrasts, with ancient traditions coexisting alongside modern developments, making it an intriguing and fascinating destination for visitors to China. 


Stories from Chengdu

About Beijing

Beijing is the capital city of China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 21 million people. The city has a rich history that spans over 3,000 years, and it has served as the capital of various dynasties throughout China’s history. Beijing is home to some of the most iconic landmarks in China, including the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and the Temple of Heaven. The city is also a hub for political, cultural, and educational activities, with numerous universities and research institutions located within its boundaries. Beijing is renowned for its traditional architecture, rich cuisine, and vibrant cultural scene, making it a must-visit destination for travelers to China.


Stories from Beijing

About Shanghai

Shanghai is a vibrant and dynamic city located on the eastern coast of China. It is the largest city in China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 24 million people. Shanghai is a global financial hub and a major center for international trade, with a rich history and culture that spans over 1,000 years. The city is famous for its iconic skyline, which features towering skyscrapers such as the Oriental Pearl Tower and the Shanghai Tower. Shanghai is also home to a diverse culinary scene, world-class museums and art galleries, and numerous shopping districts. It is a city that is constantly evolving and reinventing itself, making it a fascinating destination for visitors from around the world.


Stories from Shanghai


A short message about partnering with us.