Yuletide Greetings


Every year in Shanghai Christmas becomes a little more widespread. I am convinced that in a few more years it will seem almost indigenous. With its shopping, eating and brightly colored kitsch the holiday is made for Shanghai. Christmas decorations that were not long ago restricted to the big shopping malls have now spread almost everywhere (this really shouldn’t be surprising since almost all the world’s decorations come from the back room factories of neighboring Zhejiang province.) This year at our corner restaurant the waiters and waitresses all wore Santa hats, our housing community is decked out in Christmas lights and Zoe’s classroom at the local school now has hanging stockings, lots of images of Santa Lao ren (Old man Santa) and a Christmas tree.

Growing up Jewish in Canada,  Christmas was always a little sad. I remember one year, stuck at home, finding one of my dad’s old gym socks and hanging it next to the fireplace desperately hoping Santa would come. My mom was forced to search through the house and stuff the sock with oranges, half sharpened pencils and whatever else she could find.

The renao (hustle and bustle) of Chinatown was my savior. Going with my dad into Toronto for a flick and a feast became a family ritual.

Now that I am living in China, and the holiday has been stripped of all religious significance, I finally feel free to celebrate in full.

Yet, I’m not sure why that wasn’t always the case. It is clear to me now that everything I like about Christmas (Santa, the reindeer, the lights, the tree, the presents, the food) clearly have nothing to do with Jesus’ birth.

Christmas – like Chanukkah – is a winter festival of light. 5 minutes research reveals  pagan origins that are impossible to deny. On a cold night in December the Norse god Odin (sometimes referred to as long beard) was said to ride in the sky on his eight legged horse. Children would leave boots by the fireplace for Odin to fill with toys. In the holiday of Yule people decorated evergreen trees and sang songs.

So here in Shanghai we are celebrating Yule with lots of glitter and lights. Max and Zoe will watch for Santa and tomorrow they will find presents under the tree. Later, we will go out for our traditional holiday feast – Beijing Duck.

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