Would you be surprised if we told you that in a small town on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau, 80% of the population was Catholic?
And would you be even more surprised if we told you that in this town, a community of Buddhists, Muslims, and Catholics all live harmoniously side by side around a French-built church in the center?
The town we’re talking about is Cizhong in northern Yunnan and for us, this is the area of Shangri-La James Hilton is talking about in Lost Horizon. Here, you’ll find Lisu, Yi, and Tibetan people still tending the vineyards that French missionaries grew and attending the church built in a captivating blend of Chinese and European architectural styles.
The villagers in Cizhong gather every Sunday for an improvised mass, singing Catholic songs in Tibetan as their ancestors once did, in a church where religious images on the walls were erased by Red Guards.
Cizhong is a town overflowing with living history and it’s where we’ll be spending Christmas this year, together with the local residents who no matter their faith, come together to celebrate.
Would you like to join us?
Christmas in China: How to Get to Cizhong
Reaching Cizhong requires a road trip and there is a lot to see and do between Shangri-La city and Cizhong.
We recommend starting your journey a few days before Christmas in Shangri-La, and then traveling to Deqin via a stop for some Tibetan “Tsampa” with a local family and a visit to Dhondrupling Gompa, one of the most important monasteries in the prefecture. While not as grand as Songzanlin, this monastery retains an authenticity that is not to be missed.
In the lead up to Christmas, spend time in the villages and along the pilgrimage routes at the foot of the Meili Snow Mountains. If you’re looking to get away from it all this holiday season, this will be where you’ll find awe-inspiring scenery and mindful moments that remind you why you live in China.
After relaxing in Meili, aim to arrive in Cizhong on December 23rd if possible, so you can participate in the Christmas celebrations on both the 24th and the 25th.
Getting to know a local family on the 24th will put you in good stead for your Christmas celebration. Villagers in Cizhong will introduce you to residents whose grandparents spoke fluent Latin, treat you to homemade dessert with ingredients grown in the family fields, and pour your tea (or wine) as they introduce you to life in the town.
On the evening of the 24th, head to church for Christmas Mass — Tibetan-style —before getting a good night’s sleep. Then, on the 25th, wake up early to join the Christmas celebrations in the town square that include food, dancing, and drinking. You’ll be welcomed with open arms to join in on the festivities throughout the afternoon.
Before heading back to reality, why not finish your Shangri-La circuit at the snub-nosed monkey reserve in Tacheng? It’s on the route back to the city and offers a great opportunity to learn more about the important conservation work that has, and still is, happening in the area.
Christmas in China: Join Us This Year
From RMB10,280 per person (max. 12 guests)
Let us take all the stress out of planning your Christmas in China. Limited to 12 people or less and available as a private journey, too, if you’d prefer, we’ve put all the plans in place to make this Christmas one you’ll never forget. We’ve found the best local guides, set up the perfect route, and are already packing our bags for Cizhong. Just shoot us a message on our official account for more information on how you can join us. All yule need to do (we couldn’t resist just one Christmas joke) is make sure you pack your dancing shoes!