Yes, I know, I haven’t posted since August, and here I am posting about Christmas. “What happened after that first night off the plane?” you ask. Well, we’ve been busy. And I promise, I will tell you all as much as I can about the last four months, but now it’s boxing day and I’m going to be seasonal and tell you about our first Christmas in China.
The signs of Christmas here are not exactly the same as in the US. Back home, when the lights start going up on trees, you know Christmas is coming. Here, lights are always up on trees, and they are usually blinking, shifting from color to color, and otherwise performing all sorts of tricks. But there is Santa. Santa, the same Santa, or to be more accurate, the same two Santas, one printed on cardboard decorations, and one life size, playing the sax.
The printed Santa looks kind of old-fashioned, from the 1940s or something. Usually the Christmas message is in English, but sometimes in Chinese.
The other Santa is animatronic and plays the sax, I have no idea why. We have seen him many places: in the mall, in the hotel where the university Christmas party was held, in the Shanghai Aquarium.
OK, so actually there is one more kind of Santa — the deelybopper Santa. Many stores and restaurants have nothing Christmas related, and others just have a paper Santa up, but some (especially bakeries and restaurants) really get into the spirit and require all their workers to all wear Santa hats or to all wear deelyboppers. At our favorite local restaurant, it started out as men wearing Santas and women wearing snowmen, but by the time I took this picture, the gendering of deelyboppers had decreased.
There are lots of Santa hats. When they are not worn by waiters and waitresses and shop attendants, they are worn by penguins.
There are also Christmas displays, all of them commercial, most interestingly in Times Square (a high-end mall), which had a large lego town with a live Santa (although he was not taking requests for presents).
In their town, the lego men and stuffed pigs enjoy not only the usual baker and grocer, but also a bar, complete with neon sign.
There is a little Christmas music, but much less than at home. The kindergarten next to our house played carols over their loudspeakers Christmas eve, Christmas, and today, instead of their usual English-language sing-along songs. And Santa in legotown carried a speaker in his bag, from which a (presumably) Chinese all-female chorus sang of a “one-horse pen slee.”
There are Christmasy baked goods, although the only one I had encountered before was stollen. I did not try the green tea mousse Christmas tree.
There are no churches with lots full of Christmas trees. Real dead pine trees are not available.
But at Auchan (a big store, French-run but very Chinese, kind of like Wal-Mart, but bigger), we did manage to find a not overly large but reasonably stocked Christmas section where we found a tree. (We did not take home the inflatable Santa in spite of Ben’s argument that it was too cheap to pass up.) What we did not find, however, was lights. After some searching, Andy found a total of 6 boxes of lights at New Auchan and took home three of them. Also, luckily, he had picked up some wrapping paper on his last trip to IKEA, because there was none to be had in town (at least none that was Christmasy).
So we had Christmas with our ersatz tree and mostly homemade ornaments and lots of presents.
And we baked lots of Christmas cookies (we are lucky enough to have an oven) and left three and some celery on a plate for Santa and the reindeer and left a nice note.
And we found a turkey (from Utah!) and managed to make a nice traditional feast (complete with the newer touch of lavender potatoes) and to share it with a new friend and had a very happy first Christmas in China.