Father Christmas will not be visiting one northern Chinese town this year as officials there have ordered the removal of all festive decorations and banned shops from holding sales to “maintain stability”, according to a notice circulated on social media.
The statement from the city management office in Langfang, Hebei province, also appealed to the public to report anyone “spreading religion” in parks and squares, though it did not specify which religion.
Christmas is not a recognised holiday in mainland China – where the ruling party is officially atheist – and for many years authorities have taken a tough stance on anyone who celebrates it in public.
In December last year members of the Communist Party’s Youth League at the University of South China in Hunan province were asked to sign a code of conduct which told them not to participate in Christmas-related celebrations, according to social media posts circulating at the time.
The statement by Langfang officials said that anyone caught selling Christmas trees, wreaths, stockings or Santa Claus figures in the city would be punished.
“Shops are strictly prohibited from holding Christmas performances or promotional sales,” it said.
A worker at the management office said in an interview, however, that the ban was not specifically aimed at festive products, but rather the sale of goods on the street.
“We don’t allow shops to place their products out in the street, even if it is fruit or perfumes,” said the woman, who asked not to be named. “It’s not just during Christmas.”
While the ban on the sale of Christmas goods might appear to be directed at retailers, it also comes amid a crackdown on Christians practising their religion across the country.
On Saturday morning, more than 60 police officers and officials stormed a children’s Bible class in Guangzhou, capital of southern China’s Guangdong province.
The incident came after authorities shut down the 1,500-member Zion Church in Beijing in September and Chengdu’s 500-member Early Rain Covenant Church last week.
In the case of the latter, about 100 worshippers were snatched from their homes or from the streets in coordinated raids.
Patrick Poon, Amnesty International’s China researcher, said in an interview that the recent raids on churches reflected the government’s attitude towards Christianity and that the move by officials in Hebei was probably intended to impress Beijing.
“The authorities in Langfang might want to show how much they are ready to please the central government by banning Christmas decorations and sales.
“However, it also shows their ignorance about what Christmas really means for Christians, which is not about shopping or party celebrations but it’s the time to manifest their faith.”
Despite its apparent crackdown on Christmas, China manufactured and exported 60 per cent of the world’s artificial Christmas trees in 2017, according to Xinhua.