Monday, December 08, 2003

Merry Christmas, Baby
Christmas is coming. But how do I know, living as I am in a godless Communist country? Well, there's the calendar of course. But other than that, you might be hard pressed to know it. No canned carols filling the air, no last minute commercial rush and crush, but the workers at all the SZ McDonalds are sporting Santa hats.
Shenzhen is also the world's largest supplier of artificial Christmas trees. If you have one, odds are it was made here and I've seen a few sprouting in local restaurants and stores, though mercifully they didn't appear until the last week of November. (Now, there's a Chinese custom I heartily endorse.)
A Christmas tree stand of sorts also recently sprang up outside a large grocery and department store near the Lucky Number. As much as I dismiss Christmas in general and harbor even more ill-will towards artificial trees, I got a little wistful looking at some of them and came close to buying a "Charlie Brown" tree; tiny and slightly skewed it would fit fine in #1918.
And just this morning I overheard coworker John "Flame" Wu earnestly phoning expats for a story he's doing on how foreigners plant to spend Christmas Day.
His tone was quite earnest, but also just a tad condescending, I thought. A bit like like a clueless anthropologist probing the curious goat worshipping rituals of a newly discovered stone age tribe.
When he hung up, I said, "Hey, John do you want to know how I'm spending Christmas? Just like every other Westerner without a family here. Alone in my apartment, crying and sucking on a bottle of whiskey with a gun to my head."
John looked shocked. "You have a gun? Other foreigners also have guns at Christmas?"
Irony doesn't translate well here.
Christmas, such as it is here, is more of a Western novelty, like the Santa, reindeer, elf and snowman pictures one occasionally spots hanging year round in odd spots.
Unfortunately I have yet to see the equivalent of what allegedly was once displayed in Tokyo department store window during the holiday season: A life-size Santa dummy hanging from a cross with adoring elves at its feet.
The religious aspect seems to be completely absent, though I've recently heard that there are one or two "goverment approved" churches in SZ.
This was brought home to me about two weeks ago when a young woman at a SZ Daily English salon asked me to explain Christmas. I began by saying it was originally intended to observe Jesus Christ's birthday (never mind trying to explain the whole solistice/pagan connection).
"Who is Jesus Christ?" she asked sincerely. It was at this same salon, where I'd given a talk about the history of rock 'n' roll, that I was also asked: "Who are the Beatles?'
After those two questions, I thought briefly of combining my explanations with John Lennon's infamous "Beatles bigger than Jesus" gaffe...but, no.
The Christmas spirit may be creeping up on me, though. Yesterday a package arrived from a friend in Boulder. Inside J. had enclosed some books, the first Christmas card I've received and a carefully wrapped snowman ornament with "Merry Christmas Justin" printed on it.
I put the card on top of the TV - the only decent display area at the moment - and decided the ornament needed a real home.
And I think I know just the tree for it, just a few blocks from the Lucky Number.
Thank you, J. And Merry Christmas to you, too.

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