A Chinese Santa

Christmas is the holiday in my world. I’m on my way home to spend it with the fam like we have almost every year before – with the fireplace, stockings, Church run, big dinner and of course, tree. I wouldn’t have it any other way. There have been times, however, when we’ve diverted from the usual picturesque celebration as a product of our environment. South Africa in December doesn’t really lend itself to majestic pine trees, so the Dickson household donned a four-foot silvery plastic and wire beaut. Again below the equator in Peru, our plastic friend reappeared, and almost toppled one Christmas morning when presents were interrupted by an earthquake. And Mexico, while the forest is only a two-hour drive from the city, one year we headed south to Akumal (close to Cancun) where we strung lights on a palm tree and kicked off Christmas with what would turn out to be a empty piñata. Catholicism runs deep there, one of the conquistadors’ gifts the Peruvians and Mexicans not only accepted, but fully made their own. So once November rolled around, Christmas was everywhere.

Oddly enough, it’s also taken root in China, an athiest state where sometimes you have to show a passport to attend service. That’s because it’s not the religious source China has fallen for, it’s the stuff everyone loves – the festive spirit, family gatherings, gifts, glitz and of course, tree. No Chinese friend of mine will admit to actually celebrating the day. My teacher went as far as to describe it in the same way many describe Valentine’s Day: “A way for stores to make more money.” At work everyone hands out Christmas presents and enthusiastically participates in the office Christmas party, but playing Santa remains the job of a lǎowài– that an ethnic Santa has yet to be conceived is reflective of the holiday’s infancy and perception as a “Western” thing. While all the essentials to make the perfect Christmas are readily available at street side markets and grocery stores, without the religious foundation, the likelihood of Christmas taking hold as fervently as in places like Latin America is slim.

One year I hope to celebrate all of winter in Beijing; however, for now I not only need the extraneous stuff that makes you feel like Christmas, I also need the Church run. And I need the family gatherings.

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