Christmas is in two weeks’ time and considering the annus horribilis that 2020 has been, we need all the cheering up we can get. A secular holiday as much as a religious one, the festive season has been appropriated by non-Christians all over the world as an opportunity to indulge in activities from shopping and feasting to drinking and worse. Christmas, as it name implies, marks the birthday of Jesus Christ. But like the Official Birthday of Queen Elizabeth, observed in the United Kingdom and some Commonwealth countries at the end of May or beginning of June, Christmas is Jesus’ assigned birthday, not his actual one. In fact, there are Christians, such as those of certain Orthodox congregations and other Eastern Churches, who celebrate the birth of Christ in January. The Chinese also celebrate the birthdays of historical religious figures. The birthday of Siddhartha Gautama, or the Buddha, is celebrated on the eighth day of the fourth month in the traditional Chinese calendar among Chinese and Tibetan Buddhists. Elsewhere, adherents of other Buddhist traditions celebrate it about a week later. Whichever day it is observed, one of the main celebratory activities sees devotees pour water on effigies of the Buddha to commemorate the cleansing of the infant Siddhartha on the day of his birth by waters from heaven or the mouths of dragons, depending on the source of the story. Prayers meetings and religious rituals are also organised, which are attended by large numbers of devotees. Avalokiteshvara, known in Mandarin as Guanyin, is an important deity in Chinese Buddhism, whose birth is also celebrated. Popularly known in English as the Goddess of Mercy (though the earliest Chinese images of Avalokiteshvara were in the male form), her birthday, or birthdays, are celebrated on the 19th day of the second, sixth, ninth and 11th months. Popular among women, as well as some transgender communities due to her male-to-female transition, the Goddess of Mercy is believed to believed to dispense even more blessings and monetary largesse on her birthdays than usual. Outside the Buddhist pantheon, the Chinese observe the birthdays of many indigenous folk deities. People in Hong Kong are most familiar with Tin Hau’s birthday on the 23rd day of the third month. Tin Hau, also known as Mazu, is a popular goddess in the littoral provinces of Fujian and Guangdong in southern China, as well as islands off their coasts. Believed to have originally been a woman surnamed Lin, she has been worshipped as a guardian deity of seafarers since the Song period (AD960-1279). Mass events of various kinds are organised to mark her birthday. In Hong Kong, it is marked by celebrations in several districts, the biggest and most famous of which is the colourful and ear-splitting procession in Yuen Long that can last the entire day. While Chinese religious holidays often retain more of their religious trappings than Christmas at it is celebrated by most people today, Chinese people – past and present – do take advantage of the feast days to give themselves a bit of down time from the drudgery of work. More often than not, the ritualistic element of the holidays are quickly performed and celebrants have the rest of the day to enjoy themselves. Temple fairs selling all manner of merchandise and foods are de rigueur in many cities, and some go on for days. And there is almost always some form of family gathering, usually a special meal. This Christmas, amid all the partying and merrymaking, let us remember to wish – or pray if one is religious – for a quick and painless end to 2020 and an annus mirabilis next year.