The myth of the old, jolly, fat man dressed in red, bearing gifts for all the well-behaved children of the world, has made its way to China in recent years. While he is known by his many names - Santa Claus, Father Christmas, Saint Nicholas or, here in China, Shengdan Laoren, translated literally as "Old Christmas Man" - the legend more or less stays the same.
Although many Chinese kids don't believe in Santa Claus, they still have a wishlist for Christmas and are happy to receive gifts from parents. (Photos: VCG)
Riding in his sleigh pulled by flying reindeer all the way from the frozen North Pole to give children toys to make them smile, Santa Claus represents the spirit of kindness and generosity that symbolizes the reason for the holiday season. Not every kid believes in Santa Claus, but the myth is still a cherished Christmas tradition and helps give the holiday a magical feeling.
Christmas movies, storybooks, and classic holiday tunes all reinforce the myth and keep kids believing in Santa Claus for as long as possible. Whether it's The Polar Express movie, "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer," or "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," the story has become a central element of the holiday.
However, children will eventually outsmart the hoax and, for parents, it's just a matter of time until the gullible innocence fades away.
While belief in Santa Claus is very common among children in the West, what about kids in China? Metropolitan hit the streets on Thursday to see whether Chinese children believe the old Christmas legend. In the children's play area of a shopping mall, we met some adorable kids aging from four to nine, and with their parents' permission, we interviewed these little angels about their beliefs in Santa Claus. Knowingly, it turns out that most young kids are still fascinated by the Christmas myth, while the big kids begin to doubt the myth or have already found out the heartbreaking truth.
"Do you believe in Santa Claus?" We asked four-year-old Yang Tianyi, who was playing with a toy car. "Yes, I do," he answered. "What do you think of Santa Claus?" we asked. "I think he's like a big potato," he chuckled.
We threw our third question at him. "What's your wish for this Christmas?"
"I want a racecar!" he said with an exciting face. "I've wanted one since last year."
No surprise. After all, who could resist a tiny shiny racecar as a little boy?
In a corner of the toy section, we met another four-year-old named Men Xichen. The little girl with a colorful braid hanging from the back of her head is also a believer of Santa Claus.
"Santa Claus is a fat man wearing a red hat, red coat and a pair of grey boots," she said. "He's a good man."
And what is her wish for this Christmas? No surprise: a doll.
While little kids still dream of gifts from Santa, big kids doubt his existence. Lin Han, an eight-year-old, told us that he doesn't believe in Santa Claus.
"I know it is cosplayed by my mom and dad. Last Christmas, when they were trying to hide gifts in our house, I found out. So, now I know there is no Santa Claus in the world," Lin said.
"If there is one, what is your wish for this Christmas?" we asked.
"Well. No homework," he replied with a sly smile.
Different from Lin who discovered the reality by himself, seven-year-old Qiao Yanyi said he doesn't believe that there is Santa Claus because it is only a myth.
"I know it from books. Because there are many books and cartoons that tell the story about Santa Claus. It gives me a sense of the unreal." Lin told us with a serious face.
Lin's opinion reflects most Chinese children's impression of the whole Christmas myth including Santa Claus, his big sleigh, reindeer and presents. Without Christian beliefs, they know Santa Claus from stories, films, cartoons, or just shopping mall decorations. Therefore, they tend to understand it from the perspective of a fairytale, and to some extent, we can say that the jolly old man may be no different from Doraemon in their little mind, both of which can realize children's dreams.
Despite the cultural differences, when asked about if they wished Santa Claus does exist, all of them gave us positive answers. Cao Xiyue, a nine-year-old girl, told us that she doesn't know whether there is a Santa Claus, but she hopes so.
"If he does exist, I hope he could help more people, especially the poor people. I want him to give more fortune to those living in poverty," she said.
This is the best answer we collected that day. A Beijing girl who doesn't know much about Christmas spoke out about the exact spirit of it. There's no doubt why Wordsworth wrote, "The child is the father of the man." From these little angels, we can learn so much.