Why do I feel like I’m in a Monty Python scene while hanging out in Shanghai this December?
We visited a German Christmas Market at a large festival ground near the river. It was 8 degrees when we got there, and while we queued to get in (there was also a queue to buy the tickets at a different spot) a large noisy brass band piped up all dressed in red uniforms and they marched around while their sidekicks threw sweeties for the children. The sidekicks who also fell into the march once their sweeties were thrown were: dressed with masks and capes (maybe of a German tradition? There were crowns like the Swedish parades at Christmas time?), and lots of clown wigs. They wore funny glasses.
I exclaimed “I don’t know what this all means!” as I videoed all the Hoo Haa and squeals from the crowds. An American behind me said “It’s China, it doesn’t mean anything!”
Walking around the markets though, as the temperature dropped to 4 degrees or even colder by my Australian standards, we start to realise how the cooler climes really creates a magical Christmas time. It’s darker earlier so we can enjoy all the lights and decorations. The warmed wine now makes sense, and some Belgiums sell me their homemade mulled version and it’s actually delicious for the first time ever. We huddle with friends, we cuddle up in our winter coats and our gloves and all our accessories of warmth. Christmas is makes perfect sense in the Northern Hemisphere!
We make a Christmas tree out of all the cardboard boxes we’ve accumulated in our apartment after lots of deliveries (fresh food, same day delivery!), and make some decorations. But I think it needs a little razzle dazzle, so ask a friend where to buy some. “IKEA,” is the answer. It’s always the answer to “Where do I buy dot dot dot?” along with “Taobao”. But I go to IKEA in early December and there’s 4 packets of white dangly stars that could be Christmassy, or might just be lovely decorations. There’s even a bunch of red and white napkins and other red candles around, just in case you can imagine them to be Christmassy. But no baubles or tinsel in sight. A sell out!
Every corner we turn in December has thick tinsel and greenery over walkways and doorways, and even fairy lights or a tree. Our two year old son now says ‘Look, Christmas Tree’ clear as day, because he’s had enough practice seeing them this month.
We ride our bikes home one late afternoon and I try and navigate us away from the main road, but still pointing towards our apartment. We snake around a few car parks, and hotel driveways, and turn a corner to see a gigantic gold and silver baubled Christmas tree in a (usually) opened space area. There are tiny wooden sheds set up with fairylights creating a magical Christmas wonderland village and we see flocks of school children walking up onto a makeshift stage and a piano warming them up. We stop our bikes to see, and an American woman sees our son and tells us, “Santa Claus just arrived!” and points around the corner of these little Christmas Sheds, and I see it’s a market stall. Another Christmas Market, but this time in a richer area where Cartier, Tiffany’s and more fashion brands are around the corner. We listen to the school children singing and pop around for a photo with Santa Claus for our son. Santa is the tallest western looking man around, and we wait for at least 6 other adults to get their photos taken on the phones with cheesy grins. Santa is just hanging out in the crowd, while women in their 60s from Europe get snapped with him. Young Chinese couples put peace signs near his beard. No one steps out of the way for the child, so we just barge in (Chinese style) before the next iphone gets whipped out. Santa says nothing, and my son eyes him suspiciously. He tells me much later (perhaps a week on) that Santa said, “Ho Ho Ho”. Hmmm.
I hear that some stores in Shanghai love their Christmas decorations so much they leave them up all year. Dusting them occasionally.
The first tree we saw was back in November, at the Starbucks coffee shop in a very western area of Shanghai. A larger Christmas tree with a gold star atop outside, and a few smaller trees inside and we notice a few different choices on the menu as well. Toffee Nut Lattes (we ordered by mistake, as I often just agree with the staff, and perhaps she spoke in mandarin and I nodded), that are sickly sweet. There’s a shoebox sized gingerbread house that my son constantly pores over, saying “This one!”. There are also strange red syrupy clad donut cakes. I do not understand any of this, so put it all aside, thinking, ‘Oh it’s an American coffee chain store, this must be all a show for the Americans in the area’. But no. Every Starbucks in every area I see (and there’s a lot of them, some a block away from each other) has Christmas themes.
It dawns on me that the Chinese love festivals.
Hip Hip Hip Hooray!