Last week at work I had this conversation:
> A: John, you have an activity on Saturday.
> J: This Saturday? The 25th?
> A: Right.
> J: I can’t. It’s Christmas.
> A: Why can’t you?
> J: It’s Christmas. I have Christmas things to do.
> A: It’s just for an hour.
> J: No. It’s Christmas.
> A: OK, I’ll tell them.
Later I was approached by my supervisor:
> V: John, I realize it’s Christmas, but can you please work on Saturday?
> J: No.
> V: Come on, it’s just for an hour…
> J: Don’t you see something wrong with me giving up my own time on Christmas to teach little Chinese kids about why Christmas is important to Westerners?
> V: Ummm…
> J: So I won’t do it.
> V: But the company has already agreed to do it, and the kindergarten has already notified all the parents. Neither side can cancel it now without a big loss of face!
> J: Well, that doesn’t change the fact that it’s still Christmas. My answer is no.
They ended up finding someone else to do it.
I had nothing specific planned, really. My girlfriend and I went out to eat with Carl and one of Carl’s Chinese friends. We all dressed up a little, and the restuarant was nice. We ate stuff Chinese people like to eat such as crab. It was good.
After dinner Carl’s friend, like many young Chinese people, it seems, wanted to celebrate Christmas Eve partying at a bar. Since no one had a better idea, we headed to Hengshan Lu, Shanghai’s nice bar street. What a mistake. It seemed like all the young people in the city had the same idea. Bars that usually charged no cover were charging cover. Bars that usually charged cover were doubling or tripling it. And yet, the bars were packed. My girlfriend and I decided to go home. We left Carl and his friend to their own pursuits.
Being in China for the holidays creates a lot of weird feelings in me that are hard to put into words. That night, though, my feelings were clear. To me, Christmas Eve is not a time to be living it up at bars. It’s a quiet night meant to be spent with loved ones.
Back at my quiet apartment, sitting in the glow of a cute little fake Christmas tree assembled with care, I started to feel better. But I could still feel a kind of pressure on me. It had something to do with my company wanting me to work on Christmas teaching about Christmas, with the throngs of young Chinese people in bars on Christmas Eve, and with the ubiquitous Christmas decorations that just seemed to try too hard — and for what?
I went to bed fairly early.
Christmas Day I got up and went to mass at Xujiahui Cathedral. The mass was pretty unmoving, and the Christmas songs came out kinda stuffy. Throughout the mass, tourists were wandering into the service to have a look at what the Christians were up to. They were probably all pretty disappointed. I wasn’t disappointed, though. I felt better.
I’m not trying to write something as cheesey as “I went to church and found the true meaning of Christmas.” That’s not it. It’s more like, “the ‘Christmas’ around me, being constantly shoved in my face, bore only a superficial resemblance to the Christmas I knew, and what lay underneath it all was scary. Getting to church confirmed that what I knew was real, and I wasn’t the one who was losing it.”
After that, Christmas was more fun. We were having some friends over to the new apartment. I just happened to find Knight Rider – Season One from a vendor in the subway on my way to the grocery store that afternoon, so I picked that up. I invented the very simple “Knight Rider drinking game” (anytime anyone says “Michael,” you drink) and we played it to the amazingly long 2-hour pilot “episode.” We had Papa John’s pizza delivered. We played the pyramid drinking game. Then, when we were all nicely happy, we played Eat Poop You Cat. Yes, it sounds lame, and there were definitely skeptics at the party before it got going, but the game won everyone over pretty quickly and we were laughing so much it hurt.
It was a weird Christmas. But it was happy.