25 Ways to Make Beijing Your Home for the Holidays

Winter fun, good deeds, and warm holiday treats

1. Touch-of-Scrooge Movie Marathon
Traditionalists will gravitate toward classics like Miracle on 34th Street, but if the family’s in the mood for something different, here’s a list of flicks with minimal sap. Michelle Tsai

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989): The ultimate dysfunctional family holiday.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993): Tim Burton’s twisted vision of the holiday is candy for anyone drawn to the subversive.
Scrooged (1988): Dicken’s A Christmas Carol is reset and amped up in the decade of excess. Bill Murray plays a heartless TV executive in this dark comedy.
Bad Santa (2003): An alcoholic thief and a dwarf with a potty mouth play Santa and elf at the mall. You’ll bust a gut laughing if you’re not too offended.
Love Actually (2003): This romantic comedy set in a Yuletide London is surprisingly disarming, thanks to a star cast and a peppy soundtrack.

2. Ice Sedans on Houhai Lake
Celebrate the holidays Beijing-style by making Houhai your winter wonderland. Traditionalists can rent a pair of skates (RMB 15 for three hours) for a spin on the ice. For a bit of adventure, try an ice unicycle or the northern-China-style two-seater sedans (RMB 20 a day) that require either a bit of pushing with ski poles or a willing parent with a strong back. And exercise common sense: Stay away from the roped-off sections, where the ice is less solid. Amani Zhang

3 Buy a Christmas Tree
Be it spruce, pine or fir, nothing brings home the magic of the festive season more than the scent and sparkle of a real Christmas tree. Before you set out on your mission, think about where you’d like to display your tree and take the dimensions of your available space. Head to a flower market like Laitai, Liangma, or Yuquanying. In Shunyi, find trees for sale outside Capital Paradise near Lion Mart.

Look for a tree with lots of healthy green needles and avoid trees with signs of dryness or needle loss. To test the freshness of your tree, tap the base of the trunk against the ground – if lots of needles fall off then it’s probably past its prime. Expect to pay between RMB 150 and RMB 500 for your tree, with sizes ranging from 1.5m to 5m. Most markets will trim to size and deliver.Looking for something a little unconventional? A bare tree (any species) with no leaves or needles looks beautiful strung with colorful decorations. Angela Snowball

4. Go Meshugena on Hanukkah
When Hanukkah begins on Sunday, Dec 21, nosh on traditional Jewish foods like potato latkes and jelly donut-like sufganiyot and see the lighting of a giant outdoor menorah at 5pm (e-mail info@chabadbeijing.cn for details). Head to the family-friendly Hannukah Party on Dec 14 at kosher restaurant Dini’s on Nüren Jie; spin the dreidel for free food and drink. Jessica Pan

5. Buy a Menorah
For those celebrating the eight-day Jewish festival of lights, Hanukkah, find a menorah at Chabad offices (8470 8238) at the Grand Hills Villa in Shunyi. JP

6. See a Show
No one has an excuse to miss out on holiday cheer. In addition to the Beijing Playhouse performance of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, families can also catch a rendition of Swan Lake at the Beijing Exhibition Center Theater – performed with an extra dash of authenticity by the Royal Russian Ballet. With only two shows on the 12th and 13th, you should  get your tickets early. (RMB 80) Available at www.piao.com.cn. Imogen Kandel

7. Stuff yourself with Christmas goodies
Find Christmas yule logs (in chocolate, raspberry, hazelnut, tiramisu), chocolate Santas, gingerbread houses and Christmas cookies at the Comptoirs de France Bakery. Warm up frozen hands with a steaming cup of hot chocolate. For hot apple cider, try Eden Smoothies in Sanlitun. JP

8. Pretty Ribbons and Christmas Lights
Sparkly lights? Check. Wrapping paper? Check. Tinsel and baubles? Check. One of the perks of living in Beijing is the amazing array of inexpensive decorations. Check out some of our favorite stockists around town:
Liangma Flower Market. The second floor has been transformed into a wonderland of holiday decorations and artificial trees. Pick up pretty lights (10m strand for RMB 25), tinsel (RMB 1-8) and jewel-colored ornaments (box of 24 for RMB 35).  Downstairs, you’ll find ribbon (23m for RMB 100), cards (RMB 1) and gift-wrapping paper (2m sheet for RMB 8).
IKEA. The grand dame of home furnishings also has a great selection of holiday decorations, cards and wrapping paper. You’ll find pretty glass balls for the tree (6 pack/RMB 24.90) and plain handmade wreaths (RMB 99) that you can decorate as you fancy. 
Yashow Clothing Market. Zip up to Stall #4162 on the fourth floor of Yashow to pick up cards (RMB 1-8), fairy lights for your tree (RMB 20-40) and gift-wrapping paper (1m for RMB 2), plus heaps of decorations. AS

9. Downhill or Cross-Country?
Just because you’re in China doesn’t mean you won’t get snow in your long johns this season. Beijing may not have a plethora of Swiss-inspired chalets, but you can definitely cram some decent ski sessions into your holiday itinerary.

The ski resorts on the lips of most winter sports-savvy Beijingers are Shijinglong Ski Resort and Nanshan Ski Village. Shijinglong hosts Beijing’s longest trails and has incorporated several new runs that cater to all levels. Nanshan, in addition to ten well-maintained ski trails, also includes a snowboard park (Nanshan Mellow Park) that comes equipped with snowboarders’ delights such as halfpipes and kickers.
Two must-haves when skiing in Beijing: health insurance and a good helmet. Beijing is still a novice skiing town – you’ll need to look out for the newbies hurtling down the slopes as well as occasionally icy trails. IK

10. Decorate with
Chinese Paper-Cutouts

The Chinese first started decorating windows with red paper cutouts in anticipation of Spring Festival, but nowadays, cuttings of all colors and shapes go up around January 1.

Younger kids can take up a pair of scissors and start experimenting with parental supervision. No special skills are required (beyond the safe use of scissors) and improvisation is welcome. Dexterous teens can try knife-carved paper-cutouts, which are technically challenging and require a type of fragile paper called xuan zhi (宣纸), a sharp knife, and a wax board to keep your cuts clean. Pick up these tools on the third floor of Tian Le Toy Market. AZ

11. Sing Christmas Carols
Although it’s possible to hear renditions of “Deck the Halls” piped through many a Beijing café at random times of the year, the city’s caroling tradition is a fledgling one. There are, however, a few places where you can get together and enjoy your favorite carols. The annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony at the Kempinski Hotel (6465 3388) is a favorite among many expats for its caroling performances. Families can join the free festivities on Dec 7, 14, 21 and 24 from 6-6.30pm.

In addition, the Beijing International Christian Fellowship will feature a special children’s program as part of service on Sunday, Dec 14 at 9.30am and 11.30am at 21st Century Theater on 40 Liangmaqiao Lu. The 45-person strong International Christian Choir and band will also  perform traditional songs at the Sogo department store (6310 3388) on Wednesday, Dec 24 at 7pm and 9pm. AS

12. Cozy up to a Fireplace
We’ve found the best places to browse books, soak in that ski lodge atmosphere, or escape for a nightcap while curled up by a fire. Try the Kro’s Nest in Wudaokou or The Tree in Sanlitun for pizza fireside, Fish Nation in Nanluogu Xiang for chips and soda, or Agrilandia Italian Farm Fireplace Restaurant in Shunyi. JP

13. Good vs. Good
Beijing’s NGOs pick up heavy-duty Chinese-style meat cleavers and get their hands dirty for a good cause. On Dec 14, The Hutong hosts the Charity Hook N Cook competition, in which five NGOs – the Jane Goodall Institute, Hua Dan, Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection, Wokai and The China Education Initiative – fight for cold hard cash to go toward their cause. Want to see do-gooders wage culinary war? Get tickets fast (RMB 200), as The Hutong only fits 20 attendees. Contact The Hutong at 8915 3613 or info@the-hutong.com for details. IK

14. Pitch in for Special
Olympics Athletes

China has many Special Olympics athletes who train for competitive sports and could use your support. The Kerry Sports Centre is running a Special Olympics Fundraising Drive until Dec 14 – simply donate at the reception desk. On Dec 20, Special Olympic athletes will be on hand to tell you their stories of courage and hard work. For more details, call 6561 8833 or e-mail kerrysportscentre@shangri-la.com. AZ

15. Paint and Shoot
All children are potential artists, but talent needs mentoring. CAI is an organization that offers youth development classes for kids in Beijing who moved here from the countryside. Art courses teach creative expression, while a sports program helps kids develop confidence. To volunteer or donate supplies, contact the group by phone at 8454 9633, or online at www.cai-china.org. AZ

16. Collect art, help Orphans
Philip Hayden Foundation, which founded Red Gate Gallery in the 798 art district, has been dedicated to helping orphanages in China. They will hold their annual art exhibit this month to raise funds for ten children from the Shepherds Field Village orphanage. Called “Living Space,” the show includes paintings and installations. For more information, visit www.redgategallery.com or call 6438 1005. AZ

17. Hope in a Backpack
River of Grace, a Pentecostal church in Beijing, aims to send a thousand backpacks filled with provisions – “Packs of Hope” – to schoolchildren in Xining and Yunnan. To contribute, buy a backpack or pick one up for free at the Yard Malaysian restaurant in Shunyi. Fill the packs with school supplies, toiletries, water bottles, scarves, and other items, then drop them off by Dec 11 at the Yard or the O’Brien’s restaurants in Shunyi and on East Dongfang Road. For more information, visit www.riverofgrace.com. MT

18. Clean out your closets for a good cause
Donate clothes your kids have outgrown to the orphanages around Beijing. Moms and dads may already know NU2YU Baby Shop, the store that sells gently used, imported clothing for kids, but they may not know that they can also drop off items at the shop to be given to orphanages. To donate directly, check out China Care Foundation, the New Hope Foundation, or Morning Tears, a non-profit for kids whose parents are in prison. Even better, organize a clothing drive with local families and call for a pickup. MT

19. Help earthquake victims
The aftershocks from May’s massive earthquake in Sichuan may have ended, but the disaster’s effects are far from over. Hundreds of thousands of people suffered injuries and many are now permanently disabled. Now that winter has arrived, they’ll need extra aid to get through the season. To help, contribute to Handicap International, which supports three hospitals in Sichuan’s Mianzhu County and provides physical rehabilitation services for victims. Donate online by visiting the website. AZ

20. Adopt a Stray Pet
It’s not only people who are sometimes born less fortunate than others, but also animals. China currently has no laws to protect domestic animals, and homeless creatures have to contend with lack of food, a harsh environment, and possible abuse from people.

Beijing native Scarlett Zhang has been rescuing homeless cats since 2001 and has found homes for more than 100 of them. Most of the cats come to Zhang hungry, sick or pregnant; Zhang provides food, shelter and plenty of love. She also sends them to clinics for vaccination and neutering before putting them up for adoption.

Although more and more people in China are helping to rescue strays, many cats still need homes. Zhang has an online shop that generates a modest sum, but she relies largely on volunteers and donations. Why not give a kitten a warm home this December? Visit www.beijingcat.org for more information. AZ

21. Get Perfect Gifts for Family Back Home
Although being apart from family members during the holidays can be a bummer, it also means you have access to tons of cool, exotic gifts that will impress and delight them. Here’s our checklist. JP
History buff father: A chop (stamp) with the family name on it. Manly, storied, artsy.
Under-appreciated mother: Nothing says “I love you, Mom” like a jade bracelet or pearl earrings – check the pearl market at Hongqiao.
Dilettante brother: A mahjong set is a collector’s item and a cool new game to play. Score a set at Panjiayuan Market
Uptown sister: The versatile silk or cashmere scarf is beautiful and practical. Head to Nanluogu Xiang for some elegant pieces.
Tween-y nieces: A qipao – little girls love dressing up. Throw in a tea pot and have a fancy tea party.
Hypher nephews: Ti jian zi, the feather toy Chinese kids love to kick around. It’s easier than hacky sack and delivers a satisfying smack.

22. Shop and Skate
The city has many options for indoor ice skating, usually in close range of excellent shopping. Haidian District has Century Star Club and Champion Rink, while Beijing New World Shopping Mall in Chongwen District has a rink in the basement. Le Cool at Guomao Shopping Mall is a popular spot for ice skaters in the CBD area, while in Xicheng, Skating Time at Xidan Culture Center offers great fun after a day of shopping. In Shunyi, The Ice Zone is perfect for families.Beginners can get outfitted with safety gear at the ice rinks' gift shops or on Sports Street in Chongwen. AZ

23. Share the Love
Every Saturday I get up at 7.30am and travel north of Wangjing to teach at the Bainian School. I have about 60 students in two art classes; all are the children of migrant workers. The city has developed so quickly in recent years because of the efforts of these workers, but they and their children are one of the most disadvantaged groups in Beijing.

A few months ago I decided I wanted to do something for these kids, but I didn’t know what or how – until I learned about Compassion for Migrant Children, a non-profit organization that offers skills training programs, after-school programs, and a “Super Saturday” of art and English classes. Volunteers come from different countries and different vocations in Beijing, and undergo training for a day before teaching. Most of the English native speakers teach English with the help of Chinese assistants.

At the beginning, I felt nervous about teaching art, the subject I’d been assigned, because I know I am not very good at drawing. But after I understood the real purpose of the art program, I realized the kids were learning much more than what I actually teach in class.

I was supposed to help them use their imagination, so in the first class, I asked them to design a big name card for themselves. Each child came up with something unique – some drew their favorite sport or cartoon character on the card, some drew beautiful borders around their names. They’re all smart and passionate – they just need a little encouragement.

When we run relay races together, I teach them how to cooperate with one another and how to correct classmates’ mistakes politely instead of reporting it to me. I teach them how to forgive and how to apologize. Some of the boys are very naughty, but if I show some patience, they behave well in the end. There’s a special class for self-introductions. Some girls are very shy, but after I encouraged them and gave them the chance to practice, they grew more and more confident.

The essence of the Saturday art class is helping these children learn confidence, independence and inner strength. But the most important thing I can do for them is much more basic:  Give them my love. Cecily Huang

To learn more about Compassion for Migrant Children, visit www.cmc-china.org, call 6465 6100/6101, or email info@cmc-china.org.

24. Holiday DVDs for the Schoolyard Set
School’s out and the kids are antsy. Pop in these
movies for youngsters. MT

A Muppet Christmas Carol (1992): The Dickens classic goes fuzzy, with Michael Caine playing Scrooge. What’s better than Gonzo as omniscient narrator?
Home Alone (1990): What 8-year-old doesn’t want to booby-trap his house and throw burglars down the stairs while the parents are away? Remember to hide the aftershave.
The Polar Express (2004): A beautifully animated North Pole adventure that’s perfect for kids who are just about to outgrow Santa.
The Santa Clause (1994): Tim Allen agrees to be the next man in red after he accidentally kills Santa Claus. A straightforward family comedy.
Elf (2003): Will Ferrell, raised by elves, heads to cheerless New York City to search for his dad. Irresistible silliness ensues. 

25. Have a Christmas Brunch Smorgasbord
If you’re not up for roasting your own Christmas goose, head to one of the many lavish brunches around town on Christmas Day. For a kid-friendly experience, try the Elements Christmas brunch at the Hilton Hotel (5865 5000), which comes with live cooking stations and a play corner. Jing at the Peninsula Hotel (8516 2888 x6691) is hosting a four-course traditional affair, while dim sum lovers can flock to Huang Ting, also in the hotel, for Cantonese eats. MT