Dreaming of a white Christmas in China


There's a funny debate playing itself out on certain American blogs. James Lileks is a journalist and blogger who lives in Minneapolis and wears his mid-Western values on his sleeve; James Wolcott is a Vanity Fair writer who lives on New York's Upper West Sideand has a nice line in cynicism of the kind described by Lileks and his ilk as "liberal elite coastal".

Lileks wrote:

Maybe it's just me. Perhaps I'm overly sensitive. But when I wish a store clerk "Merry Christmas!" they often appear stunned and flummoxed for a moment, as if I've just blabbed the plans for the underground's sabotage of the train tracks in front of the secret police. I've said something highly inappropriate for the public square, and I almost expect a security guard to take me aside on the way out...

...I don't get it. There's this peculiar fear of Christmas that seems to get stronger every year, as if it's the season that dare not speak its name. Check out the U.S. Postal Service Web site: two different stamps for Kwanzaa. One for Eid, two for Hanukkah. Two for non-sectarian "Holiday," with pictures of Santa, reindeer, ornaments, that sort of thing. One for the Chinese New Year. One for those religiously inclined -- it features a Madonna and Child. But the Web site calls it "Holiday Traditional." The word "Christmas" doesn't appear on the site's description of the stamps. Eid, yes. Hanukkah, yes. Kwanzaa, yes. Christmas? No. It's Holiday Traditional.

Wolcott responds:

Every year we hear the eloquent whines of the "put Christ back into Christmas" chorus. Every year without fail we're told that Christmas itself has become a charged phrase, un-PC, fudged with euphemism. I'm not sure how we could put any more Christ into Christmas this year. Jesus was on the cover of Time and Newsweek, US News ran a cover story on The Power of Prayer, CNN is broadcasting a documentary tonight on "The Two Marys" (Madonna and Magdalene), and Mel Gibson's The Passion is at the red hot center of so many year-end roundup essays. Yet right on cue comes James Lileks, a beloved blogger in the daycare community, wondering why everyone's afraid of two simple words that say so much...

...To read conservative pundits, you'd think everybody was wishing each other Happy Kwanzaa! and averting their eyes from oh so gauche Nativity scenes. I've got news: Even here on the godless, liberal Upper West Side, people wish each other Merry Christmas without staggering three steps backward, thunderstruck and covered with chagrin.

Wolcott later praises the "ecumenical spirit that ought to be encouraged in those fractious times" that he sees in a sex shop window display which has vibrators decorated with Santa caps.

What does this have to with China?

Well, perhaps James Lileks and his fellow Christmas kvetchers should consider moving to the People's Republic, where no one is embarrased to wish anyone Merry Christmas. This writer has already received eight Christmas cards and an uncountable number of mobile phone text messages wishing me good cheer for the Christian holiday, all of them from Chinese companies and people. Every mall in Beijing is festooned with Christmas decorations. And even the Communist Party controlled China Daily is gettting into the Christmas spirit with articles on Christmas celebrations and photos such as the one reproduced above, which shows "the world's biggest single snow sculpture of Santa Claus ... in the Jingyuetan National Forest Park in Changchun, capital of Jilin Province, Northeast China."

The giant snow Santa China daily story is here. You can find many more Christmas stories on the websites of the state-owned Xinhua New Agency and English Party organ China Daily.

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