My journalism students at United International College in Zhuhai, China are always very interested in American culture. That’s not surprising since many of them hope to either visit the United States or attend graduate school there.
So in my Broadcast journalism class I often show videos that have a connection to American holidays. At Halloween, I ran “Michael Jackson’s Thriller.” When Thanksgiving arrived , the history of Thanksgiving from the “America: The Story of Us” series was the offering. But for Christmas time I ran into a problem. I was unable to download the program I wished to show. Internet blocking is quite common in China which often makes it frustrating for foreign teachers like myself. The Chinese teachers who grew up in this country often are not used to accessing the many online resources available. You don’t miss what you don’t know about! .
While searching online for some Christmas programs for my own holiday viewing, I found a possible solution. Back in the 1960s, my friends and I used to enjoy a series of partly musical cartoons in which you would “follow the bouncing ball” to the words of a song.(Remember them?) An offering called “Snow Fooling”’ had Jingle Bells as the featured offering. Jingle Bells is quite popular in China and is one song you will hear at Christmas time. Plus, the cartoon is now in the public domain. If you’re not up on the legal jargon, it means the copyright has expired so ownership is now public and anyone has the rights to them.
A few other public domain cartoons I selected from the 1940s featured other aspects of Christmas.” Rudolph the Red Nosed reindeer” is an early tale of Santa’s trusted steed.”Christmas comes but Once a Year” tells the story of how Grampy (Betty Boop’s grandpa) saves Christmas for a group of orphans. All of the cartoons were a hit. In fact, the students were singing along with Jingle Bells while “following the bouncing ball”!
Turns out that was not the only adventure into my past this holiday season. When I told several American colleagues how much the students enjoyed the old shows, we all got to reminiscing about Christmas programs from our youth. Several of us have DVD copies of a number of those shows. So we “pooled our resources” and one fine night we watched shows primarily from the 1960s: “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and “The Little Drummer Boy” among others. It was interesting to see people in their fifties and sixties enthusiastically enjoying some animated marionettes . We all remembered certain things so vividly that it’s almost hard to believe most of the programs are about 50 years old! Last year I found a copy of “It’s A Wonderful life” in China so that became the “feature presentation” for another night’s viewing.
In an earlier column I told you about my little Christmas tree. While that did bring me a lot of joy at Christmas time (especially on nights as I sat grading piles of papers), I do miss seeing all the decorated American homes and businesses. That’s where Macau steps in as a suitable substitute.
Macau is a part of China that was formerly a Portuguese colony. Just like Hong Kong, the Chinese government lets things operate a little differently. That includes open celebrations of Christmas. So here you’ll find many signs of the season that typically you won’t find in mainland China…that includes Nativity sets. The casinos in Macau especially do decorating in a big way to make all the foreign visitors feel welcome. I’m sure they hope that will feeling of “good will” translates into money spent on the gambling floor.
But the most welcome parts to me are the abundant signs of the season. They are a big draw for Chinese from mainland who are fascinated by the sights which many Americans probably take for granted. In Macau, it actually seems like Christmas. Even decorations that I once considered “tacky Christmas” are welcome now. It’s remarkable how living in a foreign country can change your perspective on things like inflatable Santa Clauses!