Five Must Have Holiday Habits: For a Dongguan Christmas Wonderland

1214_feature_1Move to any country where Christmas is the most major of mainstream merrymaking, then ask the crowds what is on their list of holiday Must Haves. The answers will presumably be a long checklist of plastic products most easily found in a shopping catalogue. Much of that merchandise—tree ornaments, children’s toys and fake Christmas trees—are made here in Dongguan, shipped back for the holiday after its customs were shipped into China in the first place.

We all know that Christmas has taken foothold in China with customized characteristics. The holiday is full of light, fun-inducing music and warm, family-oriented activities. Mostly, we know that Asia loves to light things up with colorful LEDs. But who doesn’t?

We have a feeling that expats, many of them living life by proxy in China, staying away from home for long periods but never really settling in, may have a different idea of what makes the list of Christmas Must Haves. Separated from the most authentic of home traditions, they might be craving something a little more familiar to the times of yore.

Tradition is much more than the mass produced versions sold at the local super-department store. There are at least five things that Dongguan has to offer the holiday-hungry and trendy traditionalist. It’s a native look at local versions of international customs and how to make your Christmas in China the real deal.

1214_feature_christmasChristmas Tree Road Trip

by Tracy Lu

To a Dongguan native, the importance of Christmas trees are pretty much the same as the mandarin orange bushes put out during Chinese New Year, only that we never buy artificial ones, and I don’t think Chinese are very much fond of this idea for now. Maybe in the far future, some country around the corner will be manufacturing fake bushes hung with spongy or shiny plastic oranges for the huge Chinese market.

Chinese are so used to plastic triangular Christmas trees decorating shopping malls and bearing twinkling lights, colorful candy canes and lovely little angels and Santas that they may not even think that on the other side of the planet, people buy or cut down real conifers and drag the sticky, shedding things into their homes. When I asked the first pine tree farmer, “Do you sell Christmas trees?” They said, “No.” Clever enough, I changed my question immediately.

“Do you sell pine trees under two meters?”


So here they are. I found two farms selling pine trees exactly the same as Christmas trees. They also promised they have all kinds of different shapes such as cylindrical, spherical and conical. None of them deliver for an order under 10 trees, but who needs delivery? It’s all about the whole family heading out to the countryside to pick a tree, plus you get the chance to see a ball-shaped pine tree.

Smells Like Christmas

1214_feature_2Guangzhou Yongxiong Biotechnology Company (~RMB 1,000)
Driving time: 1 hour
Jinshan Ave., Nancun Town, Panyu District, Guangzhou
广东省, 广州市, 番禺区, 南村镇 坑头, 金山大道
Guǎngdōng shěng, guǎngzhōu shì, pānyú qū, nán cūnzhèn kēng tóu, jīnshān dàdào
Phone: 138-0284-6381

Huangjie Tree and Flower Farm (~RMB 500)
Driving time: 3 hours
Jiaonan Village, Guangtai Town, Puning City, Jieyang City, Guangdong (three-hour drive from Dongguan)
广东省, 揭阳市, 普宁市, 广太镇, 交南村
Guǎngdōngshěng, Jiēyángshì, Pǔníngshì, Guǎngtàizhèn, Jiāonáncūn
Phone: 159-9259-1192

NOTE: We’ve listed address with pinyin and their matching characters hoping to make it easy to enter into a GPS device, but the farmers suggest calling them to guide you in the last few turns.

It’ll Do in a Pinch

And for those who prefer a PVC version, they can be found in most foreign-brand supermarkets, such as Wal-Mart, Carrefour, T-Mark and Metro.

1214_feature_christmasA Christmas Token

by Imperial Gardens Executive Chef Timothy Goddard

Christmas pudding, I believe. Yes. It’s the customary end to a traditional British Christmas dinner, jolly good. But what we think of as Christmas pudding, is not the original. It’s a tale of Christmas past.

Christmas pudding originated as a 14th century porridge called frumenty that was made of beef and mutton with raisins, currants, prunes, wines and spices. This would often be more akin to soup and was eaten as a fasting meal in preparation for the Christmas festivities—yum, sweetened meat paste. Slowly, and thankfully, time allowed frumenty to evolve. It was thickened with eggs, breadcrumbs, dried fruit and given more flavor with the addition of beer and spirits.

Interestingly, over the years many superstitions followed the evolution. One says that the pudding should be made with 13 ingredients to represent Jesus and His disciples. Putting a silver coin in the pudding is another age-old custom that is said to bring luck to the person that finds it. In the U.K. the coin traditionally used was a silver six-pence. You might also find other items placed in the Christmas pudding with their own meanings.

Can you guess what’s in my pudding? Merry Christmas, Chew softly and Good Luck!

1214_feature_4Christmas Pudding Charms

Bachelor’s Button Single men are to remain so for the following year.

Old Maid’s Thimble Single ladies watch out, there will be no proposal in the
coming year.

Silver Coin Its finder will find wealth in the coming year.

Tiny Wishbone This one is for the truly lucky, at least for the next year.

A Ring Singles should start listening for wedding bells, others could be rich.

1214_feature_5Christmas Pudding

  • 250 gm each raisins, sultanas
  • and currants
  • 100 gm candied orange,
  • finely chopped
  • 200 ml rum or brandy
  • 250 gm butter, plus extra for greasing
  • 275 gm (1¼ cups) firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1 orange and 1 lemon, finely grated rind only
  • 4 eggs, lightly whisked
  • 150 gm (1 cup) plain flour
  • ½ tsp each salt, mixed spice, nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon and bicarbonate of soda
  • 60 gm (½ cup) almond meal
  • 140 gm (2 cups) fresh breadcrumbs


  1. 1214_feature_3Combine dried fruit and candied orange in a bowl, scatter with rum or brandy, cover and stand overnight.
  2. Using an electric mixer, beat together butter, sugar and rinds until pale and fluffy, then slowly beat in egg. Sieve together flour, salt, spices and bi-carb soda. Add to mixture in batches, alternating with soaked fruit mixture and almond meal. Stir through breadcrumbs.
  3. Brush a 1.8 liter-capacity pudding bowl with butter, line the base with a circle of baking paper and dust with flour. Pour pudding mixture into bowl and top with another circle of baking paper. Cover with two layers of foil and tie with string.
  4. Place pudding into a large saucepan with a wire rack or tea towel lining the base. Fill with enough water to come halfway up the side of the bowl. Cover and simmer for 6 hours, topping up water when necessary. Pudding may be made ahead and cooled in bowl. Reheat in a large saucepan of simmering water for 2½ hours.

1214_feature_christmas The Aromas

by Imperial Gardens Executive Chef Timothy Goddard

It is getting freezing outside. Well, Southern China’s equivalent. And I can’t think of anything better to keep me warm than Glühwein, a German-style mulled wine. One of my favorite recipes for this time of year.

Christkindlmarkt, or German Christmas markets, are street markets with various stalls celebrating Christmas time. Glühwein, literally “glow wine” or German mulled wine, is served at special stands at Christkindl markets throughout Germany and Austria. Mulled wine is a traditional warm beverage combined with different spices, red wine, citrus fruits and sugar. It fills your house with a wonderful aroma and warms you up on a cold winter night. Serve this festive drink during your holiday party.

For the wine, I used China’s famous fine bottle of Great Wall cabernet sauvignon. It works just fine.

First, I made a sweet syrup using citrus fruits, spices, cinnamon and a vanilla bean. This way the flavors can infuse without burning off the alcohol which is added toward the end. Depending on how strong you want your Glühwein, add liquor, like rum or brandy, along with the wine. For a lighter version you can also add the wine earlier along with all the spices.

1214_feature_6Glühwein – Mulled Wine

  • 1 bottle of bold dry red wine
  • 1/2 cup of brandy or rum (optional)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 large orange, peeled then juiced
  • 1 lemon, peeled
  • 1 lime, peeled (optional)
  • 1/2 cup agave syrup or sugar
  • 5-6 whole cloves
  • 1 nutmeg, about 10 gratings
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 vanilla bean, halved (substitute; vanilla essence)
  • 2 star anise


  1. Peel large sections of skin from orange, lemon and lime. Over medium heat in a medium sized pot, pour in agave syrup and water, then add the peels and juice of the orange. Add the vanilla bean, cloves, star anise, cinnamon stick, and nutmeg gratings. Bring to a boil, then simmer for about an hour. The liquid will reduce, so after about 30 minutes add in a half cup of wine. This allows the flavors to infuse and will create a syrup.
  2. When your syrup is ready turn the heat down to low, pour in the bottle of wine and brandy. Bring back to a gentle simmer and heat for 5 minutes or depending on how much alcohol you want to burn off you can simmer a bit longer. Ladle it into glasses and serve warm.

Total Time: 60-90 minutes

Yield: Makes 4-6 Glasses

1214_feature_christmasAt Least One Sip

by Shooters American Restaurant Head Chef Jake Pulkrabek

1214_feature_9When I think about the holidays, of course the obvious comes to mind: get-togethers with family and friends and lots of good food and beverages.

One beverage that has been synonymous with the holidays in the United States and Canada is Eggnog. Although the exact origins of the drink can not be determined it has been traced back to medieval England. Eggnog made its way to North America in the early 1700’s and became a very popular drink in the cold winter months and has kept its place among family’s to this day.

As a kid growing up, Grandma Lois would always make many batches of Eggnog from Thanksgiving to Christmas. She always made the “adult” eggnog, which is made with rum or brandy, and eggnog for us kids with no alcohol (but as we got older we would sneak some sips). This recipe I have been making throughout the years and it’s a great addition to your holiday season.


  • 1214_feature_84 cups milk
  • 5 whole cloves
  • 2.5mL vanilla extract
  • 5mL ground cinnamon
  • 12 egg yolks
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups light rum
  • 4 cups light cream
  • 10mL vanilla extract
  • 2.5 mL ground nutmeg


  1. Combine milk, cloves, vanilla, and cinnamon in a saucepan, and heat over low setting for 5 minutes. Slowly bring milk mixture to a boil.
  2. In a large bowl, combine egg yolks and sugar. Whisk together until fluffy. Whisk hot milk mixture slowly into the eggs. Pour mixture into saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly for 3 minutes, or until thick. Do not allow mixture to boil. Strain to remove cloves, and let cool for about an hour.
  3. Stir in rum, cream, 2 teaspoon vanilla, and nutmeg. Refrigerate overnight.

1214_feature_christmasFamily Traditions

by Stephen O. Roberts

1214_feature_13Traditions and rituals are at the center of any festivity, and Christmas is no different. In fact, being one of the world’s most widely celebrated holidays, by both the religious and non, the range of traditional practices are equally as diverse. Whether it’s Ukraine’s Christmas tree spider web or the defecating elf figurine called Caganer that Spaniards must have in their nativity scenes, there is little that can’t be mixed into the Christmas batter.

Ours was gathering around mother for an annual reading of Twas’ the Night before Christmas that lasted embarrassingly-long into adulthood (and still flairs up when we are feeling overtly sentimental).

The point being, tradition is a way of sustaining family unity and personal druthers as much as it is about teaching and connecting to cultural history. So why not create your own family traditions, especially if separated from home by hours or days of travel.

1214_feature_christmasFamily Shopping

There is nothing original about buying gifts and trinkets for this holiday, but for the first time ever Dongguan may have what you need in a way that doesn’t feel quite so plastic for an old world family outing. Martin’s Bakery, the German-style bakery located in Dynatown’s IEO shopping area, will host six Chistmas huts selling food and gifts, including mulled wine, cookies, candy floss and German sausages. During weekends leading up to Christmas the market will be open Friday to Sunday from 6 to 9 p.m.

1214_feature_christmasIncorporate local tradition

1214_feature_11More pictures in this fun idea, but it is really more about integrating the city into your personal holiday keepsakes. Dress you and yours in as much green tidings as possible, get dropped off at the Dongguan’s Central Square to take a picture with the city’s symbol. The giant red installation of red ribbon like structures signifies the “three represents” of Jiang Zemin. Mr. Jiang was establishing the ideology of the communist party, but if you want it badly enough, it can match the theme of Christianity’s Holy Trinity.

1214_feature_christmasSanta Bombing

Should anyone in this city of 8 million be significantly bearded, it seems that he may have a responsibility to those with less hair on the facial region. If this person has a little chubbiness in the belly, it should be required that he own a Santa costume. Again find you prop online at Tabao or a like shop.

1214_feature_christmasChristmas Pictures

1214_feature_12Find a local photography studio and pack up a few holiday props. We’re thinking the Santa and elf hats, but there are more choices at the holiday market in Guancheng, too. Or browse that all-selling, all-stocking website. It no longer needs an introduction, but does have the ugliest of ugly Christmas sweaters. If you don’t get this reference you’re likely returning home for the holidays anyway.

Once armed with Yuletide flair, head to the studio, even the local Kodak store could be fun. Just walk in and take over. They will love the experience as much as you do. If you desire to capture these Dongguan Christmas memories without the ironic pastiche of the modern hipster, step it up to a more professional studio. We contacted a few and they also can’t provide props, but their Photoshop skills are more present.