Archive for October, 2010

Newcomers

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

It is already beginning to look like Christmas at Beijing’s giant Liangma Flower Market, where Merry Christmas gift bags and stockings, toys, lights, Santa candles and painted wooden angels are filling shelves upstairs from the first-floor plant displays.

By November, there will be live fir trees and wreaths that will make the market’s outdoor patio look like a Christmas tree lot that you’d find back where I come from in the United States.

By December, the whole city is celebrating with holiday parties, outdoor displays, lights and holiday feasts. After all, the “Made in China” stamp familiar around the world applies to all the trimmings of Christmas, too.

If it seems early to Beijingers to already be thinking about Christmas, it’s not too early for new expats arriving every year in the capital city. Right now is the time of year when many newcomers from afar are asking, “Do I book tickets back home, do I stay, do I invite my family?” Will Christmas be, well, Christmas in Beijing?

Last year, I was the newcomer and asked myself the same questions. Home beckoned, but then again, there was the adventure of spending a first Christmas in China. I bet on Beijing, and invited my family here.

So, here’s what I discovered. Yes, you can celebrate Christmas right here in Beijing. After discovering I could buy a live Christmas tree at the downtown flower market, I learned that taxi drivers are seasoned pros at helping transport you, a big tree, the trimmings and a giant wreath back home.

Presents were easy. What can’t you buy in Beijing? As for getting into the Christmas spirit, my first pre-Christmas discovery was the ordinary 7-Eleven, one of a chain of US-based convenience stores that now can be found in much of China, too. I walked inside and heard Christmas carols playing over the loudspeaker. Oh, thank heaven for 7-Eleven, I thought to myself, mimicking a familiar advertising slogan for the stores in the US.

I suddenly found myself singing along, out loud if off-key, to the English-language carols playing inside the store to the bemusement of my Chinese neighbors. And then I discovered the shelves had been stocked with holiday toys, candy, socks and even Christmas tree ice cream treats. Christmas carols can be heard over the speakers at local bakeries, too, which create special holiday cookies and cakes each year.

Then I discovered the annual Christmas Bazaar at a Beijing hotel sponsored each November by a club in Beijing. There were traditional gifts from around the world, gingerbread men, imported holiday trimmings, presents unique to China and performances featuring carols sung by children from local schools.

So, bring a camera. This is an event with true Christmas spirit, considering that proceeds go to good causes helping children in need throughout China.

By December, there are Christmas lights and giant displays and special events throughout the city. Last year, the Bird’s Nest became a winter wonderland, complete with snow.

For comic relief, December also brings SantaCon, an all-day pub crawl featuring hundreds of expats dressed in Santa Claus suits and fake Santa beards. Imagine dozens of male and female Santas crowding into a Beijing subway car, bursting into song as they make their way to city landmarks, restaurants and bars for one day each December.

If your family or friends are coming, they will be welcomed with giant Christmas trees and spectacular holiday displays at Beijing’s ultra-modern airport. High-end hotels offer sumptuous holiday feasts and beautiful Christmas-themed performances, but small neighborhood restaurants can become just as festive in the days leading up to Dec 25.

Yes, there are Christmas services, too, at Beijing’s eight churches. Two of them were founded in the 17th century.

For new expats who have already bought those tickets home for Christmas, just be back in time for the Spring Festival celebrations. With fireworks and festivals every day, you might just make that your new favorite holiday. For newcomers, that makes winter in Beijing a win-win for old and new traditions.

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