Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Note About Christmas

I know Christmas has come and gone, but I've been meaning to address the topic for a while and I think we're all still in the holiday afterglow anyway. My friend Ned asked what the representations of Santa and other Christmas-related things are like in China and it's actually pretty interesting.

This season, at least in Northeast China, Christmas paraphernalia was everywhere. I found this odd, seeing as most of the people I meet are either Buddhists or non-religious. I asked Lucy about it and she said it's a modern, youth-driven desire to adopt Western customs.

Teachers at the DUT Kindergarten decorate their Christmas tree.

Santa Claus on a bicycle in Harbin.

Truthfully, I think being Jewish gives me a different perspective on this phenomenon. While many young Chinese (and probably most Americans) view Christmas as a commercialized, secularized, holiday-for-everyone, I've never felt that way. I really enjoy the Christmas season (snow! music! magic! "It's A Wonderful Life"!), but I never believed in Santa Claus as a child and I always viewed Christmas as a religious holiday. A fun, wintry holiday that celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. So in a nation of non-Christians, it does strike me as a little bizarre.

That being said, Dalian and Harbin are both cities with a fair amount of expatriates and cosmopolitan influence so the cities might be catering to that. I'd be curious what it's like in the rest of China. Hannah, any comments on the Hangzhou Christmas scene?


  1. Haha, we actually missed Christmas, since we arrived in China about two days before New Year's day.

    I can totally understand exactly what you're talking about, though. I found that most people in China weren't really religious, and most were born into families that didn't identify with any religion at all (in the U.S., nearly everyone can at least identify the religion of their parents). In that respect, I can see how western holidays could become detached from their roots in China. Plus, a lot of western icons and traditions become entirely misunderstood in one way or another ("Are you playing frisbee to celebrate Hitler's birthday?").

    Merry Christmas, Ms. Glass! Did you light Hanukkah candles this year?

  2. Am I to understand that the frisbee/Hitler comment actually got addressed to you?

  3. Did I not tell you that story? Holy crap!

    Yep, it was addressed to me and the only other Jewish student in the study abroad program at the time. The person asking the question didn't know this, of course, but I think he just accidentally addressed this query to the two people in China most likely to fall over in shock.