Christmas is always a fascinating time in China. The concept is as popular here as it is back in Europe, however it is of course completely detached from any religious meaning. Instead, it becomes all about the cookies, the decorations and the Christmas shopping. In a country that has such different standards and tastes in terms of aesthetics, Christmas decorations in China can end up gaudy to downright crazy and related Christmas activities incredibly surreal.
Point in case, during our recent visit to our local shopping centre we got to witness two Christmas llamas squeezed into a small space in the middle of the shopping centre with masses of people snapping away at them. Stepping outside of the centre under an arch constructed of yellow and green that lights up at night, there was a dance troupe of Santa’s and Mrs Santa’s wearing hardly anything but their red little dresses doing a very unchristmassy hip hop dance performance.
I have seen numerous Christmas trees made out of the most unexpected materials possible – a teddy bear tree was one of my highlights – and Christmas displays that were as random as it gets, incorporating carousel horses or even China’s famous Xi Yangyang characters.
That’s not to say there aren’t any decorations out there that are up to our Western standards. Especially in Shanghai in the French concession and on the bund one can find many examples that might as well have been straight out of Europe and Hong Kong has had a century of practice with the British presence.
I have noticed how sinified decorations and those more akin to what I am used to from having grown up in Europe both evoke different emotional reactions. While I do feel grateful and happy to see gaudy Christmas decorations, considering Christmas is not native to China, it is always with a little pang of regret. The often slightly cheap looking trees and baubles remind me of the fact that I am not actually back home while at the same time making sure I don’t forget it’s Christmas time. The more Westernised decorations in Shanghai on the other hand do give me that great Christmas feeling.
Now, Christmas decorations outside are all well and good, but what about my own home? I did spend a considerable amount of time on trying to recreate my type of Christmas and in that I have to say China is a land of sheer brilliance and marvel. Specifically Taobao is a wonderland of cheap Christmas decorations; can you believe I got a Christmas tree including decorations and lights for just 20RMB?! Yes, it’s a plastic tree but at least I can reuse it next year. While I wasn’t able to find advent wreaths with candles attached to them as is customary in Germany to mark the four Sunday’s before Christmas, I simply improvised a little. All in all my Christmas decoration added up to just around 100RMB. I daresay one can barely buy one bauble for that amount in Europe.
I did manage to get my hands on some mince pies at Marks and Spencer Shanghai and my mum has sent me heaps of Christmas biscuits and chocolate – Santas, advent calendars – you name it, I’m stuffing it in my face.
What’s more, since Mr Li spent a long time in the UK, he has turned into a Christmas DJ, blasting a constant playlist of carols and Mariah Carey season’s hits.
So Christmas will be a little different than it is back home. A little more gaudy and a little less expensive, but all round just as tasty. Who’s to say that’s a bad thing after all?
Here’s to a very merry, Chinese Christmas!