Friday, December 28, 2012


Does Living in China Drain Your Claus-o-Meter?

Christmas kind of snuck up on me this year, my annual participation in SantaCon notwithstanding. One of the things that I've always liked about living in Beijing is the lack of Christmas hype. Sure, malls and residential compounds in the expat sections of town festoon themselves with some lights and a little bit of holiday regalia, but it's nothing like it is back home in the US. So long as you're not in a Starbucks or a big mall, you don’t hear Christmas music. There's nobody to buy gifts for, no family drama to fret over and no social pressure to show up at holiday parties. In effect, Christmas is "celebrated" here kind of like Cinco de Mayo in the US: As an excuse to party.

I wrote extensively about this back in 2008 when I was still in a bit of cultural shell-shock, and while everything that I said back then still holds true, now there's one caveat: I just don’t get jazzed up for the season anymore.

I think that I may have reached the point where I've been separated from Christmas long enough that the "Christmas Spirit" has been drained from me. It just doesn’t exist here, which is probably why Santa Claus doesn’t visit.

This year I actually found myself getting annoyed at the "Merry Christmas" text/WeChat/WhatsApp messages from westerners and the "Merry Xmas" messages from my Chinese friends. I felt like yelling, "Hey! 1) I'm not a Christian and 2) I'm not in a place that even recognizes the holiday. It's a regular work day here!"

Of course I always appreciate the thoughts of my far-flung friends who send me their good wishes, but they feel more meaningful to me when they come on random days all throughout the year. (Which they do, I am very happy to say- I have amazing friends!) On Christmas itself I kept wishing that there was a function on Facebook and on my SMS and messaging programs that would've let me block the Christmas messages.

Even during my first 2 years in Beijing when I was nominally observing Christmas as a cultural phenomenon, it was always in the context of people who didn’t have the holiday themselves and served more as a touchstone to my origins than a holiday in any sense of the word. (During my next 2 years I was with living with a Russian woman, and they don’t have Christmas.)

After 5 Christmases in China it feels like I'm not a part of it anymore, and that makes me feel like I don’t really want anything to do with it. I don’t even want to think about it.

It could be that this "de-Christmas-izing" is symptomatic of something larger. Sometimes I feel like there's been a foundational shift in my cultural identity. Whether it's my worldview (which is much larger now), my political stances (which are much more pro-business and free-market yet even more socially liberal than they used to be) or my utter lack of homesickness, there is definitely something different about me compared to when I was living back in Boston.

In my core I'm the same person that I've always been. As my friends who have visited me here have all agreed, I'm not different, I'm just more me than I ever had the chance to be back home. But even if I haven’t changed inside, what I respond to and what seems important and affirming to me most definitely has. I'm not sure of I can get back to the old feelings that I used to have about this season.

And I'm not sure that I want to.