When Christmas was introduced to China, the Chinese fell in love and made it their own. It’s widely celebrated today, especially by young people, but hardly any of its Western connotations remain: it’s more like a Valentine’s Day without flowers and chocolates. Instead, we have apples and oranges!
The tradition has its roots in homophones. Christmas Eve translates to Ping’anye (平安夜, the evening of peace) which sounds like apple, or pingguo (苹果). On Christmas Eve, an apple as a gift is no longer called pingguo, but ping’anguo (平安果, the fruit of peace).
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.
On receiving such a valuable apple, remember to give an orange in return. Orange (cheng) sounds like “sincere (诚)” and “success (成).” So an orange is no longer just an orange—it’s a heartfelt wish of “xin xiang shi cheng” (心想事成, to have whatever you wish for). – H.Y.
Image courtesy of Olle Svensson on flickr.com