In which China decks the imported plastic halls with boughs of botanically unrealistic fake holly.
21.12.2007 2 °C
The Santa Head Holiday is in full swing here. The halls (literally) are decked (literally) with all manner of "Christmas" decorations. "My" room (the room that belongs to class 6 in which I teach three periods per day) has been papered in green and red stripes, has sparkley snowflakes hanging from the ceiling (in front of the projector!), a big fake Christmas tree, tinsel, ornaments, ribbons and bows. One class has plastered their door in fuzzy cottony stuff. Snow perhaps? It looks as if a gale force wind blew lots of white bunnies against the door! One class has a winter scene on their bulletin board which reads, "Eat more, drink more, be merry." I asked the artists, "Drink more what?" "Water and milk!" one girl replied. Ah, good answer, especially in light of the recent slew of kids in trouble for drinking beer! The school has erected a giant tree shape made of white and red lights in the center of campus, and lots and lots of fake Christmas trees in the IB building. Every door from here to my apartment has a poster of Santa's head, proclaiming "X-Mas Merry!" In fact, every shop window from here to Beijing has some such Santa Head. Students are passing out Christmas cards to their foreign teachers (Aaron got one with the MOST evil looking reindeer on it...), giving Christmas gifts and thinking of new and bizarre ways to clutter up the classrooms. One class installed a rotating projector thing that shines a rainbow-y rotating light pattern on the floor, just outside their door. Disco. How...joyous. The supermarket in town sells not just a few Christmas decorations, but LOTS of them: many makes and models of fake trees, decorations, Santas that sing, and a wide variety of Santa head posters. You are encouraged to buy these as you listen to "Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer" in English and Chinese.
I thought I was used to commercialism. I've lived through enough American Christmases to understand what a money-making, commercialized holiday it has become. However, the Chinese Santa Head Holiday elevates this to an entirely new level. My frustration may be rooted in the theft of a Christian holiday by a traditionally atheistic country. And not just the theft...hijacking Christmas would be fine with me if they also took in the Christ-was-born-and-then-went-on-to-save-us-from-our-sins part. But unfortunately, the aspect of American culture that actually makes it across the Pacific to this country is the commercialized, packaged, for-sale, will-make-you-cool-with-your-friends pop culture. To most Chinese, Christmas is the Western "Winter Festival." A celebration of some season or arbitrary day. "Why are you all celebrating Christmas?" "It's a fun festival-Santa brings presents!" It's just what you do when you're a Chinese citizen of the world (with motherland heart, of course).
I suppose I could raise this argument against any non-Christian Westerner who celebrate Christmas for it's cultural significance, for its representation of peace, love and family, out of tradition. But in China, it seems much more blatant: it stems neither from religion nor tradition. It comes from Hollywood, from commercialism, from ridiculous interest, nay, craze for all things Western.
I'd love to see a light-up plastic nativity scene on someone's lawn, hear a high school choir singing real Christmas hymns, even see a Salvation Army worker ringing their arm off. What I'd really love is to be with my family, spending time together cooking and eating and talking, smelling a real Christmas tree, and going to a late Christmas Eve service where I'd melt my candle to my hand and watch children narrowly avoid lighting their grandmother's volatile hair on fire while Silent Night was sung by candle light...
Merry Santa Head, everyone!