> Current Page: Home Page >> School News
A Merry, Wary Christmas Is Flourishing in Beijing
Our housing compound looks like it might take off any minute. The trees throughout the common grounds are festooned with lights and a dormant-for-winter fountain has been transformed into a towering electronic Christmas tree. It took an army of workers a week or more to set up all this firepower and the results are impressive. The other day I drove home and saw a large group of Chinese gawking at it and taking photos of each other.
In the three years we''ve been in China there has been a continuous increase in the amount of Christmas celebrating here. Friends who can''t or don''t go home for the holidays tell me this has eased the strain of being in China for the holiday. Meanwhile, we are double outsiders, as Westerners who don''t celebrate Christmas. Peering at it from so far away has led me to feel both more and less connected to the holiday, which has always so dominated this season.
My friends Wyatt and Jacqui Cameron moved to Shanghai 10 years ago and struggled to find a few items to add some Christmas cheer to their apartment. Two years later, she says, there was a noticeable change, when trees appeared at the flower markets. There''s been a little more of everything every year since.
''Every year it increases and that makes it easier for me,'' says Mrs. Cameron. ''I think I actually celebrate the holiday more here than I would at home. I feel an obligation to participate in it more for my [three] kids because I''m not home. I feel I have to establish tradition for my kids, like I had. And I feel that it''s all on me to do, without an extended family nearby.''
Christmas came to Beijing a little slower than it did to Shanghai. Just a few years ago, Western expats had to search high and low for Christmas trees and decorations, or make sure they had a good supply from home. Now there are sellers of real trees all around the expat-heavy area where we live and they are also abundant at local flower markets, indicating that at least some of the growth is due to more Chinese marking the holiday. There is even a single seller of small, sad-looking artificial trees at the downscale local market near our house.
You can still traverse vast sections of Beijing without noticing that it is the Christmas season, but many higher-end locales have decorations, most of them garish and overblown. The Pacific Century Mall features a huge Christmas display on its front sidewalk, including three skinny Chinese guys in Santa Claus suits complementing two more roly-poly mannequin Santas, wire reindeer and even a manger scene. Baby Jesus rubs elbows with Santa Claus and Prancer.
I''ve heard tell of a stuffed Santa Claus cradling baby Jesus and even of a crucified Santa on a cross, though I haven''t seen these myself and think they are probably urban legends. While people in the U.S. often fret about putting the Christ back in Christmas, he was never really in it here. My old Chinese teacher Yechen, who lived in London for five years and enjoyed the Christmas season there, told me last year he found it full of a spirituality that''s sorely lacking here. ''Starbucks, McDonald''s and Christmas are all the same to most people here -- they just like foreign things,'' he said. ''People don''t understand what the holiday means. It''s just fashionable, big fun.''
At the mall, a large white faux church complete with imitation stained-glass windows showing Jesus and Mary serves as a backdrop. A Chinese family posed in front of the ''church'' for pictures and laughed when I asked if it had any religious significance to them. ''It''s just pretty,'' the mother said, as Michael Bolton''s take on Christmas carols wafted from speakers behind us. ''We come here and take pictures every year.''
Despite the carols and the Merry Christmas signs, there''s no gift-buying frenzy, even on a Sunday afternoon a few weeks before the holiday. That is reserved for Chinese New Year, which is like Christmas, Thanksgiving and New Years all rolled into one. Chinese friends who enjoy marking Christmas tell me that exchanging small gifts is purely optional, a sweet little lark.
My family and I, meanwhile, belong to that small subset of the expat world that doesn''t celebrate Christmas, status that has given us a heightened sense of closeness to each other and to our small circle of Jewish friends and Sunday-school mates. Lighting a menorah here feels a little extra special. It would have been easy to opt out of religious life while living in China, since being Jewish has always been only a part of who I am. But once we opted in, it seemed to mean more, maybe because it took some extra effort and it clearly sets us apart here. My kids take great joy in explaining Chanukah to their classmates -- they own the holiday in a way they wouldn''t back in the States.
And I don''t want to tip this appropriately warm balance by digging in my feet on Santa Claus or Christmas trees. Since coming to China I''ve loosened up about whether my kids engage in Christmas festivities. I have enjoyed watching them participate in huge Santa-infused events at their British school the last couple of years and even threw a Santa hat on myself last week when the big man visited the second-grade classes. Being so far away I feel some warmth for these Christmas totems, which seem to represent America more than they do than anything religious.
But I do have my limits, and they were tested by Jacob''s ''holiday'' play this year, a musical reenactment of the birth of Jesus called Rejoice. I squirmed in my seat as my son and his friend Sam wore skullcaps on stage as the token Jews. It was meant as a show of diversity but it felt all wrong, as did the entire production, which nowadays would be considered wildly inappropriate in a non-religious American school. Other American families of different faiths were also upset, but our British and Aussie friends couldn''t understand why. It was another reminder that in my expat life, the cultural miscommunication is not always between me and China.
English Chinese translation:
我的朋友怀亚特?卡梅隆(Wyatt Cameron)及杰姬?卡梅隆(Jacqui Cameron)夫妇十年前迁往上海居住,当时他们不得不努力去找几样装饰品来给家里增加点圣诞气息。但杰姬告诉我两年后情形就不同了,那时圣诞树已经可以在花卉市场买到。之后庆祝圣诞的气氛一年比一年浓烈。
在北京很多地方你仍感受不到圣诞气息,不过许多比较高级的场所都已扮上了“圣诞妆”,虽然大多有些艳俗。太平洋百货商场(Pacific Century Mall)在门前的空场上布置了一个巨大的圣诞景观,有两位胖胖的圣诞老人,有驯鹿车、有小马,甚至旁边还有刚降生的耶稣躺在马槽里。除此之外,由三个中国人装扮的美体修身版圣诞老人也会不时出来搞搞气氛。
在太平洋百货商场里还搭了一座装有仿制彩色玻璃窗的白色大教堂,背景包括耶稣和圣母玛丽亚(Mary)。一个中国家庭正在这座迷你教堂前边摆姿势照相,当我上前询问这是不是对他们有特别的宗教意义时,一家人笑了起来。妈妈说:“就是好看呗。我们每年都到这儿照相。”此时迈克尔?波顿(Michael Bolton)的圣诞颂歌正在商场里回响。

(Source from ebigear.com)