Christmas Tree a Symbol of Love, Acceptance Across Cultures – Pub’d on China Daily

Recently, China Daily published my holiday-themed column Christmas tree a symbol of love, acceptance across cultures. Here’s an excerpt:

My old Christmas tree-the very one I bought years ago at a Hangzhou supermarket-was the last thing I expected to find in my in-laws’ storage room in their rural Zhejiang home.

My husband Jun and I had just moved back to China after spending years in the United States, my home country. We had decided to stay at the family home during our transition back to life in China, which just happened to overlap with the start of the Christmas season.

While I recognized we probably couldn’t “deck the halls” with the same flair as my family had done in the US, I still longed for that one holiday necessity-a Christmas tree.

The last time we had owned an artificial tree in China, we lived in a small apartment in Shanghai, where it always occupied a place of importance in our living room every Christmas. But before moving to the US, we had left the tree behind with Jun’s family, like many other possessions we could never have packed because of the limited space in our luggage.

I knew his parents, frugal by nature, cherished the many practical household items we had passed on to them. Yet, if there was one thing I felt certain they had already jettisoned from our Shanghai days, it was the old Christmas tree. After all, they hadn’t grown up celebrating the holiday, and I had never glimpsed a single Christmas decoration in their rural home.

Why would they hold onto something that ostensibly had no obvious place or purpose in their rural Chinese lives?

So after moving back to China, when I brought up with my husband the idea of having a Christmas tree, I had assumed it would lead to talk of taking the bus to the largest supermarket in the county, sure to have a corner dressed in tinsel, filled with everything from rosy-cheeked plastic Santas to artificial evergreens of all sizes covered in shiny baubles and twinkling lights.

Instead, hours later, my husband poked his head into the bedroom, to bring great news of a package he and his parents had pulled out of one of the storage rooms: my old Christmas tree.

You can read the full piece here — and if you like it, share it! 

Wherever you are, here’s wishing you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

A photo of the Christmas tree we used during our Shanghai days.
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4 Replies to “Christmas Tree a Symbol of Love, Acceptance Across Cultures – Pub’d on China Daily”

  1. It’s funny how so many people get hot under the collar about celebrating Christmas (or any other non-Chinese holiday.) in China.
    During my time in China, I found that it was the local Chinese people who insisted that I, as a foreigner, ‘celebrate’ non-Chinese holidays such as Thanksgiving (I am not American), Halloween, Christmas etc. in ways totally foreign to me.
    I was berated (and insulted) when I refused to dress-up at Halloween and behave in a way portrayed by popular tv programmes. Likewise at Christmas local friends approach me and demand gifts. (which to me is at odds with the spirit of Christmas), and when I explain my customs, I am ridiculed spoiling things for them.
    People were less interested in learning about the origins of any of these festivals (while ironically I had to give classes on these festivals) and more about the more commercial side.
    Locals have zero interest of learning about the origins and meanings of the various things such as the Christmas tree, wreaths etc. While they are tied very much into the religious aspect of the festival, and some are even older than Christianity.
    Most foreign workers, myself included, AVOID anything approaching any religious instruction, most of the traditional Christmas symbols have a religious origin.
    Colleagues relate how, when asked by their employer to play ‘santa claus’ and hand out free gifts to the children of local colleagues, would be practically sexually assaulted by ‘aunties’ and grannies in their desperation to get their free stuff. (I did actually witness one such event and the poor guy was lucky to escape with most of his clothes on). And locals get angry (again I have seen this while working in Shanghai and Beijing) when we object to being the ‘performing foreigner’ for their benefit.

    Recently, yet again, there are reports of local officials in China ‘banning’ anything Christmas related, despite it being a festival that most foreigners I know would prefer to celebrate in a low-key way.
    There is huge demand from locals, particularly parents, to ‘celebrate’ and I think it is sad that many other countries are willing to learn about, understand and celebrate Chinese festivals while China professes to want to play a greater global role.

    1. However the reason why Chinese celebrate Christmas is that it was regarded as an commercial activity in China rather than a religious festival.
      What’s more is the date if Christmas is original a festival to worship Mithra.

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