In the States, the day after Thanksgiving marks the commencement of holiday shopping and its attendant rampant advertising and discount campaigns. And, as much as we may not like to admit it, the month-long Christmas/Hanukkah fever is shared by many an American, unless you are Muslim or a Jehovah’s Witness.
Perhaps because the majority of Americans celebrate either Christmas or Hanukkah, the proliferation of Santa Clauses, christmas trees, elves, menorahs, and the ever-present Christmas song doesn’t stand out as strange, purely commercial, or misplaced.
In Beijing, however, everyone – Chinese or expat – can easily view the holiday season in the same way that singles perceive Valentine’s Day: as a commercialized, commodity-driven month.
Except this one is full of discounts and sad, sad employees who grudgingly wear floppy Santa hats.
In The Village, one of Beijing’s most popular (and posh) shopping centers, a Smart Car and a Christmas tree are enclosed in a glass bubble. On the rim of the bubble, the message, “You could be the lucky winner of a brand new Smart Car!” is written in a happy, Christmas-y font. Ten meters away, at the entrance of UniQlo, a Japanese-owned clothing store, cutouts of Christmas hats and Santa Clauses block one’s view of the store’s interior. Inside the store, Christmas discounts abound (yay!) and foreigners are lined up, 10 or 20 at any given time, at the changing rooms or registers. Of course, there are Chinese people shopping too, but they are, I must say, the minority here.
And so, at first glance, there is a holiday fervor in the shopping area. But once one steps away from The Village, all of that dissipates, and one remembers that China is not a country in which holidays are celebrated in December. Chun Jie, the Spring Festival, isn’t until the end of January. On a second take of The Village’s Christmas trees and decorations, I couldn’t help but notice that while foreigners were walking past the decorations with smiles on their faces, the Chinese patrons walked by slowly, staring at the decorations,
as if they were looking at something that wasn’t their own, in a place that didn’t belong to them, in the midst of a celebration of which they were not a part.
On seeing this disconnect, I realized that I really don’t like the holiday season in China. I like China’s holiday seasons. I really loved it when every single store and home put out a Chinese flag during National Day. And I loved it when all of the small stores sold moon cakes during the Moon Festival. But Christmas? (Hanukkah is way beyond the capacity of these international corporate designs.) I don’t like it. Not one bit! And I especially don’t like it when Chinese employees are made to wear Santa hats!!!! Do they have a choice? In the States, do all employees have to abide by their companies’ costume policies?
I’d rather not have a commercial holiday season at all. Just knowing that Hanukkah
is going on right now is good enough for me. I don’t have a menorah, but I did make latkes!!! Tonight, at Maria’s, most of my friends got together for a holiday party, at which I made latkes from SCRATCH. We also ate salad, Swedish pancakes (American crepes), fruit with melted chocolate, and Danish sweets. The meal was 1/4 dinner fare and 3/4 dessert. It was amazing.
OK – so that’s the one thing – LATKES. I can’t do without them during the holiday season.