We All Need Christmas

It would seem that every year Christmas becomes more and more firmly embedded in the societal norms that make up China. It’s easy for us who’ve a history with the holiday to scoff at the Chinese and their feeble attempts to understand this mammoth festivity. The way they buy tiny plastic trees, recite heavily accented carols, and exchange gifts… all with little to no understanding that the day is anything but another opportunity to give things to friends and family and get stuff in return.

But see, they’ve got one thing right – they know how to celebrate and not get caught up in the details. Sure they don’t have all that Christian kid in a barn stuff, and they vote undecidedly on whether Santa lives at the North or South Pole, but … isn’t thinking about friends and family the real point of all this? And I’ve not met a Chinese person yet that gave out a sigh of frustration or desperation when talking about buying gifts for their friends and family for Christmas.

Actually, if anything, this my second Christmas in China has clarified a few things for me. We need more festivals, not less. If the Chinese want to take this holiday and celebrate it by buying gifts for their loved ones with no idea about baby JC and his vestal mama.. so be it. That’s not what Christmas is about any more than worrying you got everyone what they wanted is. Christmas, at least to this lost laowai, is about recognizing that a world with festivals is a world worth living in.

As long as we have something to celebrate, no matter how obtuse or without understanding, humanity has some spark that sets it alight in the darkness of mundane survival. And survival is a beast that lurks ever-present waiting to regain its foothold as the governor of our existence.

So, Westerns that think the Chinese have got it wrong, and Chinese who think that Western holidays are squeezing out your own culture… take a moment and recognize that a holiday is a holiday – and there are far too many days in the year that aren’t holidays to start bitching and complaining about the ones we manage to get.

大家圣诞快乐, 晚安!.

8 Responses

  1. I have to disagree on this one (and I only seem to comment when I disagree), but I hope that this country will overcome the inclination toward Christmas for a while. Sure, we need more holidays, but I can’t think that the locals will get anything but the worst bits of the Christmas season. When I was a wee high schooler, my friends and I saw the need for an alternate celebration called Phil and Abe day (to be detailed in a later peer-see post) that did away with that fat Macy’s hack. Anything western is commercial enough. I don’t think the few cultural offerings the west has to give should be as tainted with the almighty dollar as they are back home. I certainly don’t expect (nor – based upon how the Chick tracts fueled the Taiping Rebellion) the religious aspects of the holiday to translate, and without that translation, I hope the Chinese don’t adopt this one as a secular holiday.

    Thank you, Easter Bunny!

  2. It’s interesting Josh, that part of the inspiration came from Emily over in your neck of the web.

    They told me that most holidays in China are celebrated with family, and there are lots of traditions that dictate exactly what everyone is supposed to do. For them, Christmas is a new holiday, and it doesn’t have any traditions associated with it, yet. So our students can celebrate by doing whatever they want. Most of them go out to dinner with their friends.

    They seem to like Christmas a lot.

    At first I was annoyed by that, annoyed by the ignorance of the Chinese thinking they could just bastardize the holiday into whatever they wanted and buck all the traditions that are instilled in the rest of us from an early age (dradle, sans dradle, 都可以)… then it occurred to me that holidays and traditions are (despite puritan hopes) a fluid thing that adapt to the culture at hand. And in the end, who am I to say what the “worst bits” are?

    I see more and more that most the faults I find in this country come from the masses being treated like children. Thought to be temperamental, stupid and with no ability to decide for themselves. Because they are treated like this by the powers that be, they in fact begin to act like this. Give people the power to choose for themselves and I have faith that good choices will be made.

    That slides into a big tangent, but my point is, I think if Chinese want to use this time of year to celebrate, however that celebration mutates from the way we “think” it should be, that’s fine by me. They’re big boys and girls… and if they want some added value in it, they’ll attempt to put tradition into it… otherwise it’ll be just like me enjoying the fireworks at Spring Festival, but not burning money for my ancestors… and I think that’s fine too.

    As well, this avoids the rather daunting task of trying to figure out what “culture” we need to try and translate … Christian, Jewish, Pagan … fuck it… just celebrate.

  3. Why not celebrate every day?
    What you write makes some sense, I guess, but I was really, really annoyed by the Christmas fireworks that woke me up at 1 AM last night. As for adapting foreign holidays to your own culture, I draw the line at mixing Christmas and fireworks.

  4. You’re right, of course, but I will stubbornly insist that the “worst bits” involve a bearded fat guy goosing your mom and trying to sell you a bottle of J&B. And “Santa Got Run Over By A Reindeer.” I guess I’ve got issues.

    But as for me and Grandpa…

  5. Um, no. Christmas is about Christ. That’s why it’s called Christmas. If you’re celebrating without celebrating his birth you’re celebrating some kind of modern paganism. Sorry to be pedantic, but that’s a fact. And it’s perfectly ok, because, as has already been pointed out in this thread, cultures are fluid and ever-changing.

    And I have to disagree with Josh’s insistence on the worst bits of Christmas. The worst bit is commercialisation. An American friend of mine has been known to say that America doesn’t have culture; America only has marketing. That American disease seems to be spreading around the world. This commercialisation of everything, especially holidays and festivals, threatens to swamp and maybe even destroy anything that could be called culture. We have to be careful about this, otherwise our humanity will be destroyed and we really will be mere consumers, little more than pigs being fattened up for somebody else’s profit.

    And if Chinese people want to get together for a party at Christmas, why not? It’s going to be weird to us, but let them party.

    And to echo one of Chris’s points, but take it a little further: Who needs an excuse to party? Why not celebrate every day? If for no other reason that you’re alive and you can.

    Party on.

  6. ‘Christmas’ is a pagan festival. Invented long before anyone thought of JC. Many of the most popular customs and traditions currently associated with Christmas go back to those days. If they are ‘developed’ and adapted a little more, so what?

  7. True, there were originally pagan festivals which the church tried, but obviously failed, to stamp out by changing them to Christmas, but the name ‘Christmas’ itself means Christ must be involved in it somehow. But this is all a load of pedantic bollocks and nobody really cares because it doesn’t really matter. So let’s all just enjoy the holidays.

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