As I write this column, it’s about a week until Christmas and I’m sitting outside wearing shorts and grading some papers. Yes, you read correctly. The temperature here in Zhuhai, China where I teach is 76 degrees. As I look out my window, roses are even blooming in the garden!
There will be no white Christmas since it does not snow. I always remember Western New York Christmas tree sellers telling me how snow really gave business a big boost. They’d have some serious sales issues here. That doesn’t even take into account the significant number of artificial trees which are cranked out in Chinese factories! There are not many sights of the season here either since most mainland Chinese people do not celebrate the holiday. In fact, the weather here usually does not feel like what you might associate with any American holiday.
At Halloween time, the leaves were not turning colors or falling off the trees (that usually happens here in March for some reason). You’d hardly notice that since there is an abundance of other vegetation to look at. Whoever did the planting in the complex where I live figured out a plan where something is always in bloom all the time.
During trick or treat time, Emily Krampke, the wife of a new colleague at my college, commented on how she missed seeing candy piled high in the stores. What she experienced instead were mounds of moon cakes. Moon cakes are round snack cakes that pop up in abundance during the Mid-Autumn festival. That holiday occurs at the time of the first full moon in October.
This time of year, Christmas trees are usually found in businesses that cater to foreigners such as hotels and certain bars. It’s the third year for my little tree. Originally I decorated it with just Chinese New Year ornaments because that’s all I could find. But this year I came across the type of decorations that might be on your tree. One little nutcracker was setting on the blanket of a guy selling some stuff on a sidewalk. He was pleased that the foreigner (me) bought it since no one else seemed interested in it!
I tracked down a few other ornaments at a Walmart in the city of Donguan. That city’s previous claim to fame was shoe factories. Now one of the local landmarks is Walmart. (I’m serious). The experience of shopping in a Chinese Walmart will come your way in a future column.
Santa Claus is a popular decoration when you do spot Christmas things .That should not be a surprise considering most of the Christmas items in the US seem to have a made in China tag on them. On the other hand, I don’t recall ever seeing a Holy Family decoration or one remotely having a religious feel to it.
Sometimes you can track down Christmas treasures in unexpected places. A colleague at United International College discovered an Andy Williams Christmas special in the DVD store. So even though Mr.”Moon River” passed away in 2012, his music lives on in China. I found a DVD of “The Year Without a Santa Claus”. There was also a Christmas music CD for sale but I did not recognize any of the artists. I tend to prefer the classics which seem to be mostly sung by dead people: Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Karen Carpenter and Perry Como among others.
Internet blocking is a consistent problem in China but fortunately I have discovered an online site that does get through. There are 47 different channels of Christmas music on www.accuradio.com. It offers all sorts of moods that definitely help my Christmas spirit. Isn’t the Christmas spirit supposed to spring from within you…not from the decorations around you? Life in a foreign land is definitely a constant reminder of that.