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Shendanjie kuaile!

Anyone want pizza?

I think that means “Merry Christmas!” I’m pretty sure but I’m to lazy to go look it up right now. You can see how lazy I am by the fact that it’s, like, two weeks after Christmas and I’m finally just now getting my butt in gear to write about it. Well hey, better late than never, right?

Part of the reason it’s taken so long is that I feel like there’s so much I want to say about Christmas in Shanghai, but then when I try to write it down I can’t think what to say. Because it’s a really weird thing. I mean, the question I was getting from some of you beloved friends and family was, “So do they like, do anything there for Christmas, or what?”

No idea what this stage is for. I think it is actually just for people to stand on whilst other people take their picture.

And the answer is that yes, they definitely “do something” here. Lots of things. Everything except, well, celebrate Christmas. Everyplace – I mean everyplace – you go there are decorations, trees, lights, windows with that spray snow stuff stenciled into festive shapes, poinsettia plants (real ones, fake ones) galore. Santa faces everywhere. Special sweets and treats for sale. Christmas carols playing in the shopping centres and cafes. The photo at the top of this post is pretty representative – that’s a 10 floor department store (see the people in the lower right, for scale) festooned with a super-size Santa.  But you know, here’s the deal: people here, they love to shop, and they love to decorate with multicoloured lights, both as often and as extravagantly as possible. So, they love Christmas.

One of about five thousand market stalls selling every bit of brightly coloured Christmas gear you might possibly ever need, and may you won't.

Everything but the, you know, the actual Christ part. Because it’s not a holiday here. Everyone (chinese) just gets up and goes to work, like any other day. They don’t really have Christians. There are a handful, but it’s highly discouraged. Foreigners can have religious services but only foreign passport holders can attend. Attempting to recruit/minister to local people is against the law and will get you deported. (Woo hoo, no Jehovah’s Witnesses knockin’ on my door on a Saturday morning.) But Christmas is as good an excuse as any to buy stuff and put up lots of lights and eat sweets and that sort of thing, so hey they’re into it. All except the Jesus stuff. What can I say?

But it is nice to hae something of a festive atmosphere, even if it is sometimes a little wonky (you’ll notice in the top photo, Santa has 3 Rudolphs – they try so hard here sometimes, but just don’t quite get it.) From Thanksgiving on, most of the bigger hotel chains have some sort of regular special events going, like boozy Sunday brunches featuring traditional western holiday foods – I’m a big fan of these, ha ha, although ’tis true they have done my waistline no favours. We went to a nice one the weeekend before Christmas at the Hilton (in an insane world, one can always go to a Hilton for a bit of serenity, anywhere in the world – globalisation ain’t all bad, folks) and they had a big electric train village thingie set up, a quintet playing classical music, activities for the kids, all very civilised.

Who doesn't love a giatn train set? No one, that's who.

Christmas Eve we went with another couple and their two girls to a ‘stew and pie’ buffet sponsored by one of the Abundant Grace International Fellowship church at another hotel. Good food, not fancy but very homey. After the buffet there was a carol service, which we sort of half-attended – it was very crowded and we hadn’t finished our meal fast enough to get seats so there was only standing room at the back left. The two dads decided that they would be magnanimous and give up their standing space to others, in favour of retiring to the hotel lobby and having drinks.  There was space up front for all the kiddies to sit  on the floor so the three girls did that for a bit, but started to get a bit restless, so eventually we gave up and joined the dads in the lobby whilst the girls ran around and exhausted themselves. Ordinarily not behavior one might condone in a nice hotel lobby , but it was all good cheer and happy happy, and no one seemed put off by three little blonde girls dancing around the big tree shrieking “Santa is coming”. So we just let them get good and tired, then bundled off into a cab before it all ended in tears. (As many of you know, with toddlers, it can all go so wrong, so quickly…)

Look! Santa was here!

Fortunately, having been sufficiently exhausted the night before, M slept in fairly late on Christmas morning; no racing for presents at dawn, which G and I much appreciated. She was very excited to see that Santa had eaten his biscuits and drunk the nip of scotch we left for him, and of course, to see the big pile of loot he had left for her. Kind of a challenge for Santa to restrain himself – toys are plentiful and inexpensive here, even the ones not tainted with lead and other toxins.

No, it's not a very small tree. It's a very big Barbie.

The rest of Christmas Day was a fairly quiet affair. We hung around the house most of the morning into early afternoon drinking coffee with Baileys (well, G & I did) and eating pain au chocolat and other goodies.  In the afternoon we went out and had Japanese food and then went to the aquarium. So, not really a traditional way to spend Christmas, but we had fun!

4 Responses to “Shendanjie kuaile!”

  • MWT says:

    “Shendan” is how they say “Santa,” if I’m remembering right. And “jie” is “festival/holiday.” So, Santa festival. ;) Sounds like a good way to put it when you’re just doing it for the pretty lights. (And “kuai le” means … well, “have a happy” or “rejoice” or so.) You probably also heard a lot of “Shing nian kuai le” which means “happy New Year.” It does sound like a very Chinese way of celebrating a festival.

    Also, what kinds of toppings come on the pizzas there? I had a pizze in Taipei once that had corn and peas on it…

  • Lynette says:

    Do the locals exchange gifts at all? I can hardly think that they deck out the entire country for a few foreigners LOL! Considering most of our holiday decorations are probably made on that side of the globe I can see why they would want to decorate!!

  • kellie says:

    Good question Lynette, I don’t know! I mean there were certainly lots of things for sale that had the whole “give this as a gift” feel about them – sets of bath smellies, fancy candle thingies, chichi men’s grooming kits, etc – but I don’t really get the sense that many Chinese people were out shopping with a list and thinking “Right now there’s the in-laws sorted, now I just need to get something for my brother’s kids and a Secret Santa gift for the office…”

    I do think that there is some gift-giving that goes on that is sort of, like, the obligatory business kind of gift giving, if you know what I mean? Like for example businesses sending out fancy lined boxes of scotch or expensive tea or delicacies to their main clients, that sort of thing. And then they will do it again about a month and a half after, for Chinese New Year. The concept of “guanxi” (“connections”) is extremely important here, as is that of “saving face”, so people go to great lengths to cultivate and maintain favourable relationships Part of that is the giving of gifts, even if it means straining your own/your company’s finances to make a good impression (in the hopes that this will be repaid in the future via opportunities or business sent your way).

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