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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:
我们居住的小区现在已经装饰得流光溢彩了。树木缠上了彩灯,因为冬季而陷于休眠状态的喷泉也变身为一棵高高耸立的电灯圣诞树。一大班工人花一周多时间才给我们的小区置上了这身行头,而且效果确实醒目。某天我开车回家时看到很多中国人在这棵“树”前驻足观看,并互相拍照留念。
在我们旅居中国的三年当中,庆祝圣诞节的气氛越来越浓郁。那些无法回家过节的朋友们告诉我这样有助于缓解他们在假日期间的思乡之情。不过,作为不过圣诞节的西方人,我们一家难免显得有点“双重”置身事外。在欢渡圣诞成为当然主题的年终岁尾,远望着这一切,我感觉自己和这个节日若即若离。
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。
杰姬说:“在中国,圣诞节的感觉每年都在‘升级’,这也给我的生活带来了更多便利。其实我在中国过圣诞节要比在国内正式;因为我们身在异国,就算为了孩子们我也要好好过这个节日,这对我来说彷佛一项义务。”她说:“我觉得自己必须让孩子们知道何为传统,就像我小时候那样;由于这里只有我们一家人,没有其他家族成员的帮助,这个责任只能由我一肩承担。”
广告圣诞节“空降”北京的时间略晚于上海。就在几年前,旅居北京的老外还必须到处寻找圣诞树和装饰品,要么就得保证家乡有充足的后备供应。现在在所有老外密集居住的地方都有真的冷杉树出售,而且在当地花市中供货也不成问题,这表明至少有一部分中国人也开始重视这个节日。在离我们家不远的一个小市场里甚至有人专门销售那种小小的、看起来模样颇不周正的塑料圣诞树。
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。
我曾听人说起过,有的圣诞景观是那个胖老头给初生的耶稣摇摇篮,有的甚至是圣诞老人被钉在十字架上受难,不过我并未亲眼目睹,而且我觉得它们应该是讹传。在美国,人们通常不会在过圣诞节时抬出耶稣降生的场景,在中国就更是从来不会把这二者联系到一起。我以前的中文老师叶琛(音)曾在伦敦生活了五年,并总在当地过节。去年他对我说,北京的圣诞缺少伦敦圣诞节那种骨子里的东西。叶琛说:“对绝大多数中国人来说,圣诞节和星巴克、麦当劳都是一样的,都是泊来品;人们不理解这个节日意味着什么,只知道时髦、好玩。”
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。
虽然有颂歌和圣诞标志,但在中国可没有圣诞购物狂潮,即便这个节日已经近在眼前了。中国人都在憋着过春节呢,后者就像是圣诞节、感恩节和新年的三位一体。那些喜欢过圣诞节的中国朋友们告诉我,在圣诞节交换礼物纯粹是个可有可无的小仪式。
我家是不过圣诞节的,这在旅居中国的老外中属于少数派,因此我们也更加珍视和家人、犹太朋友们以及主日学校校友们的亲密关系。在这里点燃犹太烛台有一点特殊的意义。在中国,选择不参加宗教活动本是件容易的事情,反正犹太人的身份并不是我的全部。但是只要我们参加宗教仪式,它就会给我们带来更多的感受,这或许是因为它不是惯性使然,而是需要自己努力为之的,而且这样的仪式也把我们和现在生活的环境分隔了开来。我的孩子们在向同学们讲述犹太光明节(Chanukah)时很开心,这是他们以一种非美国化的方式庆祝这个节日。
我不想以改过圣诞节来打破孩子心目中的平衡。自从移居中国之后,我对孩子们是否参加圣诞活动的态度就出现了松动。在过去几年中,我都在他们就读的英国学校观看了他们参加的圣诞节目汇演,上周我甚至在这位大人物到访小学二年级时带上了一顶圣诞老人的帽子。我之所以做出这么多让步是因为这些圣诞节物品让我感到了一种温暖,它们看起来更像一种美国人的象征,而不具宗教意义。
但我还是有底线的,我儿子雅各布他们班今年再现耶稣诞生记的舞台剧《Rejoice》就试探了我的底线。当看到雅各布和他朋友山姆(Sam)拿无边便帽当犹太人的典型服饰时,我在椅子上真是感到坐立不安。这出戏的本意是体现文化的多样性,但感觉完全不对,即使是在没有任何宗教色彩的美国学校上演亦不恰当。在座一些拥有其他宗教信仰的美国家庭也感到了不舒服,而我们的英国和澳洲朋友却一点没有察觉。这不禁提醒了我,在异国生活中,文化上的隔阂并不只存在于我和中国人之间。

 
(Source from ebigear.com)