Stuart Beaton writes about Christmas and China and how people celebrate–and what exactly it is that they’re celebrating. (Check out Stuart’s podcasts at http://rastous.podomatic.com/). Without further adieu, here’s Stu:
China may be a “Country of Godless heathens”, but they seemed to have embraced the spirit of Christmas.
By that I don’t mean anything as crass as religious celebration. No, they’re getting right into the Consumerism Spirit.
Saturday afternoons in downtown Tianjin are usually mildly crowded, as people wander from place to place, gently looking for something to do.
Christmas Eve, however, saw huge crowds of frenzied shoppers incredibly accurately mimicking the scenes of last minute Christmas shopping usually associated with the U.S., England or Australia. It’s as if the population has had collectively thought, “Hey! Another Festival!”, and gone all out to take part in it.
Of course, local businesses are helping to whip them into a spending frenzy, with huge Christmas displays (almost as tacky, if not more so, as those in the West), miles of blinking lights, millions of shiny baubles, and dozens of trees.
Everywhere you look, the bearded face of Old Saint Nick is smiling down, and faux-Victoria cherubs surround paper cut outs of firs that Prince Albert would have wept to have seen.
Even the cashiers in small supermarkets are wearing Santa hats – albeit the last batch I saw were more trimmed with grey than white, but they had been wearing them for four straight weeks. I believe some of the hats were beginning to be able to be classed as life forms in their own right…
For the first time since I came to China, I saw staff making up Christmas Hampers for people to give as gifts. One of them contained a tall chocolate rabbit, left over from Easter, but I didn’t have the heart to point it out.
My students have also tried to get into the swing of things this year – during their oral exams, several asked me what I’d be doing “during the Christmas festival”, as if it was a couple of weeks long.
“Well, I might roast a chicken and vegetables, and I think that I have a tiny pudding in the cupboard”, was the standard reply, “my wife’ll have to work, and I’ve got exams to mark.”
“Won’t you go to Church?”
I haven’t set foot in a Church in over a decade, and I’m unlikely to go to one here. Some of my colleagues belong to some Evangelical sect, and spend a lot of their free time trying to recruit followers, as if it was some kind of points system towards Sainthood.
Around this time of year, they’re almost clawing over the top of each other to drag unsuspecting students into their apartments “for tea and a chat”, in an effort to raise their scores on some Heavenly tote. Selling one’s soul for a mince pie is placing a very low value on it.
When I asked some of my students if they really knew what Christmas was all about, only one of them had an answer.
“It’s Santa’s birthday, sir, and everyone gets a present because of it.”
Part of me died inside that day.