In China Christmas Day is just another workday. Even the government offices and the banks are open.
The Chinese are aware that it is Christmas, of course, and merchants have started promoting the commercial aspect of the holiday. They get it. And many wealthy Chinese have bought in. They do it entirely by choice, however. The Chinese just aren’t very gullible when it comes to money.
For the first few years that my family and I lived in China I always took the day off, we had plenty of Christmas decorations (That’s where they’re all made, after all.), and we always had plenty of gifts for my young daughters. As luck would have it I had to come to the US each December to present the following year’s budget, so I inevitably lugged three large suitcases full of Wii consoles, or whatever was the popular toy of the year, back with me.
I was never once stopped by China Customs. The government is strict in some ways, but it understands priorities. I was a foreigner and they were happy to let me be one. (Unfortunately, we seem to have abandoned our own empathy on that front.)
When my family moved back to the States without me, however, I stopped celebrating Christmas. I went to work. It wasn’t just another day, but the difference was within.
I still bought presents for my daughters, of course, but that wasn’t easy to do. You may not have heard this but if you want to shop online at an American retailer and the IP address you’re using originates in China, the store will automatically cancel your order. American business is a slave to process. China IP = cheating. They say that’s not profiling or racism, but that must be some kind of new math. (The same math, I suspect, that leads to the drug-related incarceration of African Americans at more than six times the rate of white incarceration despite comparable usage rates.)
I tried calling a couple of the biggest retailers on Skype and explained the situation. The people who answered were sympathetic, but in the end could do nothing. The computer just didn’t allow them the discretion to overrule my being blackballed. They did remind me, however, that a survey would be forthcoming and it would improve their Christmas if I could see my way to a good score. (It’s the commercialization of customer service, of course.)
I wasn’t deprived as a child, mind you. My mother loved Christmas. She worked on it for months. We went to church on Christmas Eve, my father took us caroling, my mother baked Christmas cookies, and we set out cookies and milk for Santa. I never saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus, but there were lots of hugs and the atmosphere was warm and loving.
This is my second Christmas back in the US. And my wife and I have consciously decided not to celebrate with decorations and gifts. We’re not atheists. We’re not even agnostics. We just don’t see the value in spending a lot of money on stuff we don’t need and destroying the environment in the process.
Our leaders, of course, tell us that we have a duty as Americans to spend money. The economy depends on it. And if we don’t, American workers will suffer. And yet it is somehow uniquely American that we don’t even see the problem with that logic. (Or that we don’t recognize that it is foreign workers who will suffer since that’s where most of the stuff we buy as gifts is actually made now.)
It’s addiction logic. If I stop it’s going to hurt so I’ll just have another drink or snort another line of coke. Reminds me of the old joke about the Irish woman who took her husband up to the top of the hill overlooking the local brewery one night to prove to him that he couldn’t drink it dry. “No, but I got ‘em working three shifts,” he noted. (I’m Irish, if you want to skewer me on Twitter.)
It’s no surprise that Christmas has become so commercialized. We’ve commercialized everything in America. We’ve even commercialized waiting in line. Pay a premium and you can stand in a shorter line. And who needs net neutrality? Let ‘em pay. (Just remember to give those same big corporations a nice tax break for Christmas.)
The commercialization of American life really hit home for me on Christmas Eve, however. I was feeling a bit nostalgic and thought I’d find the tv channel that shows the Yule log burning. Talk about Christmas traditions.
I went through each of the 163 channels I now get but never watch. I found a whole bunch of channels that are a testament to how out of control we are commercially but I could not find the Yule log. Until, that is, I got to the 153rd channel or so. And there it was. But it was on a premium channel that I don’t subscribe to so it was blocked. The friggin’ Yule log is now pay to play, just like everything else.
The real problem I have with Christmas in America these days is that it is just another reminder of our social and economic division. The rich are hobnobbing in Aspen and the rest of us are watching them on Facebook and wondering why our lives are so boring.
The secular Christmas, of course, is a pretty crappy time for many Americans. The pressure to keep up is overwhelming to many. That’s not Santa shouting from the rooftops. It’s our neighbors telling the world how lame we are.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a collective Christmas for once? Wouldn’t it be nice if we just took a time out and devoted all of that effort and money to helping the people who need our help most? Christ knows (pun intended) there are enough of them.
I’m actually not a Grinch. I’m quite content with my life. China just gave me a different perspective. It helped me take “I” out of my life and replace it with “we.” It’s not as hard as you might think.
And you’ll feel better for it. Remember, “we” is just “me” with the first letter turned on its head. It’s all in the perspective.
header photo credit: iStock.com/FlairGun
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