Christmas to the sound of saxophones
 Source:AFP Date:2014-12-22

No sleigh but a motorcycle and sidecar for Santa Claus as he gets ready to set off with one lucky child in Shanghai yesterday. More than 30 people dressed up as Santa to drive to a special school that enrolls autistic children, and take them on a tour of Shanghai as an early Christmas gift. Shanghai has more than 10,000 autistic children. Christmas celebrations have exploded across the nation in recent years, with shop windows bedecked with plastic Christmas trees, garlands and baubles, while the strains of “Jingle Bells” fill the air. — CNS

CHRISTMAS — once banned in China — has exploded in the non-Christian nation in recent years, with marketeers using everything from saxophones and Smurfs to steam trains to get shoppers to open their wallets.

Anyone walking into a shopping mall is welcomed by an orgy of festive cheer: shop windows are bedecked with plastic Christmas trees, garlands and baubles, while the strains of “Jingle Bells” fill the air.

On the streets, banners reading “Happy Christmas” adorn schools and hotels, while festive messages are splashed across adverts and the media. In many restaurants, staff wear Santa Claus hats and felt reindeer antlers.

Christmas is celebrated widely across Asia where it has become a major shopping holiday shorn of most religious trappings. It has particularly gathered momentum in China since 2010, when then Vice President Xi Jinping — now the country’s head of state — popped into Father Christmas’s cabin during a visit to Finland.

“At shopping malls, Santa has become a promotional tool for pushing Christmas sales, and Chinese like to shop,” said Sara Jane Ho, founder of a finishing school popular among Beijing’s wealthy. This year she has noted the proliferation of young Father Christmases, his traditional beard and rounded belly replaced by a saxophone.

“The saxophone is seen as a very Western thing, and Santa Claus is seen as a very Western thing, so it’s almost natural they go together,” said Ho.

In China almost anything seen as Western is used to evoke Christmas: teddy bears, the Seven Dwarves, fairground carousels or even steam trains. Last year, a shopping mall in north China’s Shanxi Province featured a giant Father Christmas, the edge of his jacket lifted as if caught by a gust of breeze in emulation of the iconic image of Marilyn Monroe.

The Christmas craze is mainly limited to young urbanites from the middle or upper classes.

“At my home in the country, people don’t celebrate Christmas. By contrast, their children who have moved to the city celebrate it. On December 24, they meet with friends and go out to have fun,” said Guo Dengxiu, a migrant from eastern Anhui Province.

Many Christmas “traditions” have been brought back by young Chinese who have studied abroad, said Ho, meaning the holiday often more resembles Valentine’s day rather than a celebration of Christ’s birth.

“In the West, you have a big meal with your family, just cooked at home, you exchange gifts, and afterwards you would attend a church service,” she said. “In China, you have a big meal at a restaurant, with friends or with your romantic significant other — so it’s a romantic date — and it would be followed by going to the cinema, karaoke, clubbing or a costume party.”

But traditional holidays remain more important occasions for Chinese families, said Professor Benoit Vermander from Shanghai’s Fudan University. He sees China’s love of Christmas as “a close mixture between attraction to ‘globalized’ Western customs and a fascination with religion.

“China celebrates both Christmas and the Western new year and, a few weeks later, the Chinese new year. In this way, it has two cultural identities: one reflecting its ancestral culture and the other reflecting globalized culture, borrowing from Christian tradition.”

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