Deck the halls.
Yes, even in Beijing--the beating heart of Red China--Christmas has arrived in a big way. Or, as Holly so delicately puts it, it's like Christmas puked on Beijing. It's everywhere: department stores, grocery stores, restaurants--even Seasons Park. Yes, the Home of Tycoons is also the Home of Christmas, apparently. There are lights on all the trees; Christmas stencils--stockings and wreaths, mostly--painted onto all the windows; and Santa Claus faces stuck everywhere. The lobby of our building even has a Christmas tree, complete with presents. Unfortunately, the aforementioned presents all seem to be wrapped with baby shower paper and--I believe--even some Happy Birthday paper--so they don't have it quite right. But still, it's pretty close for their first time.
There are actually quite a few funny things like that. (Well, funny to us seasoned Christmas veterans, anyway.) For example, we still haven't figured out whether or not the people here know that there's only one Santa Claus. While some places--such as Pizza Hut--do adhere to the One Santa Policy, others seem to be a bit more liberal. While we haven't actually seen multiple Santas anywhere--we don't spend a lot of time in prime Santa locations such as malls and department stores-- some of the signs seem to indicate that two, three, or even four Santas might not be too uncommon in some places. After all, when you're talking about people with bags full of presents, the more, the merrier.
We also saw a funny display outside a mall on Wangfujing, Beijing's big shopping street. Picture the facade they usually have on a scary ride at a carnival or amusement park: a large, dark colored wooden structure flanked by towers with a large, scary head--preferably a ghost or vampire--mounted over an arch that serves as an entrance. Got it? Okay, now replace the scary head with the considerably less frightening head of good old Father Christmas. Weird, isn't it? I certainly thought so. Although, in that context, Santa Claus does seem a bit more sinister. You'd probably want to think twice before sitting on his lap, at any rate.
Anyway, it's actually not that surprising that Christmas has caught, I don't think. I'm paraphrasing myself here, but any holiday that involves getting a lot of free stuff is bound to catch on. The funny thing is that I don't think most Chinese realize there is more to Christmas than just an overweight guy in a red suit breaking into your house--the whole "Jesus" part has been entirely left out. (Discuss amongst yourselves as to whether or not this is true in the US as well.) As far as I can tell, most people here just see it as a good excuse to go out, have fun, and buy a lot of stuff. In fact, I read an article that said most people here like Christmas because it's like Chinese New Year (the big Chinese holiday), but without the need to spend time--possibly tedious--with your extended family. That's the spirit!
And if Party Central has there way, the Chinese will remain ignorant as to the true spirit of Christmas. (Um, that the presents are from Jesus?) I have just recently learned that in order to attend an actual Christmas service--yes, there are churches here; no, I don't really know why--you need to present a foreign passport. Seriously. When I heard that, all I could do was wonder why it wasn't like that in the US, too. It would have been a good excuse to sleep in, at any rate: "Mom, I can't go to church today. I don't have a valid out-of-country passport."
Of course, it figures that the one time I can actually say that, I can't because I do, in fact, have a valid, out-of-country passport. Oh well ...