I usually order a tall brewed coffee at my neighborhood Starbucks. It’s the cheapest drink on the menu. Today, in honor of the holiday season, I’ve ordered a nutmeg latte. While I wait for my beverage, I hum along with the Muzak. “Oh the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful, and since we’ve no place to go, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!” Although it never snows in Guangzhou, I could just as easily be standing in line in downtown Seattle.
Coffee and Christmas have come to China in a big way. My nutmeg latte, incidentally, costs 32 RMB which is about $5.25 at current exchange rates. Make that coffee, Christmas and capitalism. In my neighborhood alone I can choose from a half dozen coffee shops. And Christmas decorations – don’t get me started! I have a snapshot of workers erecting a Merry Christmas sign above the entry to our local mall. It’s dated October 25th, six days before Halloween and exactly two whole months before Christmas. Of course, Christmas is not a government holiday so there is no time off from work. But that does not seem to impede the commercial possibilities.
For me, Christmas is about traditions – family, friends, food and festivities- and, of course, there is the religious tradition as well. The first four traditions can be found in abundance during Chinese Spring Festival, which falls on January 31st, 2014. Religious tradition can also be found in China, although in lesser amounts.
My first year in China (2004) I attended a Chinese Catholic mass with a colleague on a cold Christmas Eve. We were in Jiangxi Province at the time; in a city that had a rather scarce supply of lao wai (foreigners). Our plan was to slip quietly into the back row, listen for a while and then slip out as quietly as we came in. That was our plan.
Our plan changed dramatically, however, when the priest glanced up from his text and noticed two odd strangers sitting in the back. He instantly ordered two chairs be brought down front. You would have thought we were two of the three Magi as we sheepishly walked down the center aisle. The congregation stood up and began to applaud – so much for slipping out quietly!