How Do You Wrap “It’s The Thought That Counts”?

I've been asked a few times by the folks back home if China celebrates Christmas. Aside from the rather odd phrasing of the question (how does a country celebrate anything?) I'd have to say no. Not in any direct sense at least. I mean, you see some decorations scattered here and there. The towering Holiday Inn has alternating red-green lights running up its height, I saw two mannequins today painted the stop and go colours, and most of the big supermarkets have a little area dedicated to Christmas stuff (cards, little fake trees, etc.).

Upon hearing this near everyone exclaims, "You're so lucky you don't have to deal with the Christmas rush. Swamped shopping malls, massive amounts of traffic, the stresses of shopping."

Umm… they are right that I don't have to deal with this because of Christmas. I have to deal with this because I live in China. 1.3 Billion people in this country and they all chose this otherwise inconspicuous Sunday to visit Suzhou's downtown.

Maggie and I decided to go do some exploretory shopping today to see if we couldn't find some gifts that didn't include the standard ornamental chopsticks/fans/wall hangings that have made up the mainstay of my gifts from China thus far. We didn't succeed, you're all getting more chopsticks – it doesn't at all bother me that you've not touched the first pair I got you.

It was a zoo downtown. I had prepared myself because I had read as much on my buddy Steven's blog, but bah!

The problem, as I see it, with shopping for Christmas presents in China is that you only have two choices:

1. Buy the over-priced and under-varied souvenir-type gifts – trying desperately to remember to whom you've already given which ones, so you can mix it up.

2. Buy the same crap they can buy in Canada, but higher quality and in a style that is suitable for the decade we live in.

I have always hated buying Christmas gifts, but the gifts I did enjoy buying were the ones that were found in random shops that had a bunch of original things that no one else was selling. These types of "crafts" shops are pretty common in Canada. In China, unvarying mediocrity runs free. Just as you can be sure that every store/stall in an area will have the same stupid waving Lucky Cat, you can be certain they'll all be equally absent of anything worth buying.

If satellites (with their thousands of channels of nothing on) represent the downfall of television, then China (with its million of stores with nothing to buy) represents the downfall of shopping.

3 Responses

  1. when we first started dating, my wife asked me “what are you getting me for Christmas?”
    I looked at her and said, “probably nothing since you don’t celebrate it.”
    She responded by saying, “but more and more Chinese are celebrating it though”
    “What exactly are you celebrating though?” i said, “The birth of Christ? Satan Clause giving all good capitalist children a gift? Do you treat your country men any different during Christmas by donating to charities or do a good deed?”
    “is that what you do in America?” she quipped, “I just want a gift!”
    Her remark, although selfish and inconsiderate, did sum up what many Chinese think about Christmas and what many Americans are unwilling to face. That Christmas is just a consumer holiday with exaggerated good feelings to damped the truth. ouch.


  2. Haha. I actually had a Chinese friend message me yesterday and ask me if I thought it was weird that her (presumably laowai) boyfriend didn’t want to exchange gifts. It was difficult to explain that some people actually rebel against the most capitalist of all consumerism holidays (wait… maybe that’s valentine’s day). Some people actually have the good sense to say, “等一下,为什么我买过那么多的东西!?”

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