December 23, 2008

Santa On Saxamaphone

Christmas and the surreal go hand in hand when living in Beijing. Yesterday I was greeted by the following scene in my office lobby: A Chinese Santa Claus, skinnier than Zhang Zi Yi after a three week therapeutic fast in Phuket, playing Christmas songs on his saxophone, accompanied by a circa 1983 boom box.

Christmas in China has become an industry of its own. When I moved to Beijing in 2000, Christmas was in fact a year round event, although perhaps unwittingly. It was not uncommon to see random holiday decorations plastering the walls of the kind of cheap, neighborhood eateries that I preferred to frequent. People did not necessarily realize what these Christmas angels and St. Nicks represented, they just liked the way they looked.

Fast forward a few years, and I began noticing that Christmas was becoming popular among Chinese youth, especially students and office workers. I asked a few people why Christmas was so popular and the most common answer was that Chinese people need an excuse to spend money.

The truth is, anything Western is increasing in popularity. I have never been really big on Christmas myself as an adult, finding it a little too commercial and hypocritical for my taste. But for some reason, seeing Christmas celebrated in China has always perturbed me. It seemed like some kind of violation of a sacrosanct Western tradition. At least in Korea, where they are even more Christmas crazy, a large percentage of the population is Christian.

The lowpoint for me came a couple years ago, while eating at my favorite Buddhist restaurant. The decorations were in full affect, including a Christmas tree and Santa hats. Severely annoyed, I asked why a Buddhist establishment would be celebrating a Christian holiday. The staff informed me they were not celebrating it as a Christian holiday, but as a secular one. This response miffed me even more, since then all you have left is a commercial holiday based around consumption and consumerism. Oh, the irony!

But I have come to accept Christmas in China. I have decided if it makes people happy, why should I complain. It really is no different than me celebrating Spring Festival or Cinco de Mayo. These are not my holidays, but I enjoy having an excuse to party. And any holiday that involves a Chinese Santa Claus on Sax can't be all bad. So Merry Christmas everyone!

Next stop Vietnam!

Lyric Of The Day:
Could I write a requiem for you when you're dead?
'She had the moves, she had the speed, it went to her head'
She never needed anyone to get her round the track
But when she's on her back
She had the knowledge
To get her into college
But when she's on her back
She had the knowledge
To get her what she wanted

'The Stars Of Track & Field'
-Belle And Sebastian


Anonymous said...

A Very nice X'mas in Beijing post.
Someone from mentions your blog, so here I am.
I love the Spirit of X'Mas but not so much the commercial nor the religious part.
Indeed, "if it makes people happy, why should I complain." I said the same about the Beijing Olympics - billions of smiling faces, cheers, and laughters all over the world can't be all bad.

A very Merry X'mas to you and a healthy New Year to you, the good doctor.


Anonymous said...

Dance with Flowers. A great blog post. beijing sounds so surreal. i'd love to explore that city someday as as writer.

Pam H

Anonymous said...

Hope you had a wonderful Christmas.

pug ster said...

At least China in general has no problems in saying 'Merry Christmas.' Here in the US some businesses has to say 'Season's greetings' so that they won't offend non-Christians.