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Marc Wandschneider is a professional software developer with well over fifteen years of industry experience (yes, he really is that old). He travels the globe working on interesting projects and gives talks at conferences and trade shows whenever possible.

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Dec 25, 2008 | 00:07:35
Christmas in Beijing
By marcwan

Not having particularly large numbers of Christians, for most of Asia Christmas is not an official holiday. Everybody trundles off to work at 8am in the morning like any other day, banks and government services remain fully operational (if completely unhelpful) and few – if any – people have trees or other decorations in their homes – gifts and the like are rare.

As such, it has been interesting to see how Christmas is becoming a bit of a “thing” here in Beijing, and entirely unlike what one would expect. Nearly every mall, shop, and restaurant has some sort of decoration, ranging from tinsel snowflakes to cutouts of Shèngdàn Lǎorén (Santa Claus), to big signs proclaiming 圣诞节快乐 (Merry Christmas). While old people tend to not care and are usually more than barely aware that the holiday is passing, the younger generations (and therefore the commercial enterprises who depend on their dollars) seem to be quite into the whole thing, with groups of coworkers sharing cakes at the office or going out for meals with little Reindeer antler hats on.

One aspect of it all is that Beijing becomes something of an expat ghost-town for the holidays. Many people leave to go back to their home countries, and those who live here tend to hunker down in their little expat enclaves such as Shunyi or Wangjing. What’s left are the (typically younger) foreigners who either couldn’t leave because of work, or decided simply not to bother. The expat restaurants and bars all begin the annual business “dry season” which usually lasts until the arrival of spring (and, coincidentally enough, actual rain).

Thus, it was with some surprise last night that, as a few of us went out for drinks at Q Bar, home to some of Beijing’s finest mixed drinks, traffic in the city was a complete mess. Any place that had bars and clubs was a complete madhouse, and even big shopping areas were all quite packed. Yet, only those places that catered to the locals were full – expat places such as Sanlitun and the like were still completely deserted.

What was going on was that all the locals were going out and partying. But instead of doing presents or any sort of family thing, it was more along the lines of New Years partying, with countdowns to Christmas tree lightings, party hats and streamers, and otherwise drunken revelry. No arguing here about how the holiday has lost its spiritual meaning and roots here – it never had any in the first place. For the Chinese, it’s just another way to participate in some of the things that Westerners like, but do it in their own unique way, and have a blast at the same time.

Here is a video from the local Chinese YouTube rip off (called YouKu):

In another uniquely Chinese way, many of those restaurants and shops will be sporting those same Christmas decorations until well into the summer. It is not unusual for me to be having Sweet and Sour Pork somewhere in July, with a big bearded Santa watching over me.

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