It’s hard to believe that last year at this time I was arriving home in Florida for a surprise visit. Prior to last Christmas, I had been in China two Christmases in a row. Yet this year I feel more divorced from this “Christmas” thing than ever before. This year Christmas is just that Western holiday between the HSK and my move to Shanghai.

Speaking of the HSK, I think I did “OK.” I think I’m borderline between 7 and 8. Maybe it was unrealistic to expect to be able to learn enough vocabulary in one semester to get an 8 when I don’t read literary Chinese all that often at all. In any case, I’m not getting my hopes up too high for that 8.

So now I have that huge HSK weight off my shoulders, and a whole three days between today and Christmas. But I have to give my students final exams those three days.

We have a pretty decent-sized foreign teacher community here at ZUCC, but I don’t think any of the younger crowd is celebrating Christmas in any Christmassy way. No Christmas trees, no Christmas lights, no Christmas songs, no gift exchange. And there’s sure as hell no eggnog. There’s Christmas mass even in Hangzhou, but it just doesn’t feel the same.

I might even run off to Shanghai on Christmas Day to check out my new apartment there*. My girlfriend’s mom is awesome — she found me a killer pad at an amazing price (and she also knit me a cool cap). But I have to go hurry and check it out to close the deal. As chance would have it, Christmas also happens to be one of the few days my girlfriend isn’t working. So that’s that.

The thing is, I’m not really bummed about any of this. China does not really have Christmas, it just has enough little reminders everywhere to alert you to the fact that Christmas really is going on again elsewhere in the world. So my co-workers’ attitudes, rather than seeming all bah-humbuggy to me, seem perfectly natural. Enlightened, even. Why bother to celebrate Christmas?

I guess to me, Christmas is something that happens at home. And when it happens at home and I’m actually there for it, like last year, it’s just all the more special.

So does the fact that I’m fine with there being no Christmas for me here in China mean I’m more adapted to China? Does it mean China has really become a second home for me? Or am I becoming a soulless Scrooge?

Rather than dwell on those questions too long, I think I’ll just go get me an apartment in Shanghai. Merry Christmas.

*Oh yeah, I got a good job in Shanghai — more on that later. This post is supposed to be somewhat “heavy” and “introspective.” No room for good news here!


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. christmas is very much a hallmark holiday in China, stores try to promote to drum up business, but it’s nothinh like back home. Still I get a little homesick when i here christmas songs in au chan

  2. it’s nice when the gf’s mom pitches in on the apartment hunt, but I am concerned about the knitting of caps. That shows a certain amount of of disrespect, and we all need to be concerned about face. You should at least be getting mufflers or sweaters. Once she starts sewing pants for you, then you know you have it made. Of course, her fashion sense may be a tad off, but after so long in China, maybe yours is too?

    Here’s wishing you Happy Holidays and a hassle free move from the sticks to the Big City!

  3. Merry Christmas to all you in China. I was just luaghing/talking about this with a few of my friends on different occasions during the past weeks. What is Christmas? Is it stores that sell dancing plastic Made in China Santa Claus figures? Or perhaps it’s all about Father Christmas die-cut cardboard posters for the Chinese who only know Christmas as the one they see in movies (thus missing the point of Christmas but how are they different than most Americans?) … the mall is packed, last minute shopping is at a peak – but is it about materialistic gifts or time spent with family. Spending a bill on gifts is easier than spending a whole day with loved ones. Time is money and lately, free time isn’t something that doesn’t comes easily.

    To look back on the DECEMBER 2002 gallery from last year in China is amazing. How much have we accomplished and done in just ONE YEAR. How fast it has flown by – thank gawd that I have photos to prove some of the things I’ve done because I doubt my memory could’ve contained such vivid imagery. Anyhow, SHANGHAI it is and as always, you know I have the faith in you. Keep us all posted as we (Sinosplice loyals) live through your experiences.

    The latest news in the Bay Area is the completion of the UNIT D WEDNESDAYS parties – all three parties and respective galleries are on the Sinosplice Racingmix site. It was cool to hear about the parties Cindy threw featuring Carl Lorimer (Sinosplice Network: Strange News from another Star). In the future, we’ll have to throw a massive rager to knock the socks off all the Chinese clubgoers.

    Merry Xmas and Happy New Year brothers and sisters in China!

  4. John,

    The reason I am so nonchalant about this Christmas holiday is that for good or ill I have all you guys here to spend it with. Of course I will miss my family a great deal and the tradition and the eggnog but I have you guys and you’re like family as far as I’m concerned and now matter how we spend Christmas eve/day it will be great becasue it will be with each other. Minus you because you are going up to Shanghai and leaving us all on this Holiest of Christian holidays. Jesus weeps at your exodus. We will all pray for your soul while you are up in Shanghai living it up in your fancy new apartment. Heathen. Just kidding baby you know I love you. We’ll miss you.

  5. Just my two cents’ worth, but the answer to “why celebrate Christmas” is pretty simple, to those who celebrate it for the reasons it was created. It is, after all, a holiday celebrating the birth of Christ…even if it’s been commercialized into oblivion, over the last 20 years or so.

  6. I was never a big fan of Christmas to begin with. Of course I like getting stuff and spending time with the family, but I’ve been rather enjoying not having holday season commercialism rammed sideways down my throat for the last month.

    That I have to give two exams that day helps to reinforce that it’s not Christmas, it’s just another Thursday, too.

  7. every time i see a picture of santa claus in china, i get a little creeped out. not because of the whole east-west juxtaposition culture cluster-mcfluck, but because the picture itself looks kind of sinister. like someone was trying to update santa by making him look even more avuncular or elvish–i’m not really sure what it is. santa doesn’t give me toys anymore. he gives me the willies.

  8. wow,your mysterious girlfriend!You re going to leave? kind sad about it,though hardly meet you on campus this term.Any party or time for we students to say goodbye and thanks?

  9. Freejack,

    I agree with you about the “true meaning of Christmas.” But even that, you just don’t feel here in China. I mean, it’s kind of hard to celebrate when the atmosphere just isn’t there, or when it’s in an unfamiliar way.

    Even at the Catholic church in Hangzhou, it seems like Christmas Eve is a bigger deal than Christmas day.

    Most Chinese people seem to think that for foreigners Christmas Eve is a bigger deal than Christmas day.

  10. Dora,

    That’s a good question. I’ve been so busy lately I haven’t put much thought into how to “say goodbye” to ZUCC.

    I’ll let you know.

  11. Da Xiangchang Says: December 22, 2003 at 4:26 pm

    Christmas meant a great deal growing up, but now in my late 20s, I’m like, Whatever, dude. I’m completely irreligious, and my parents are divorced, so I don’t really care for Christmas anymore.

    Christmas in China, however, was fascinating since I got to see how the Chinese appropriated this most Western of holidays into their society. I always went to church in China on Christmas Eve to check out the service. And, of course, the Chinese-made papier-mache Santa Clauses in front of department stores were the best! They either looked like dirty old men or complete ghouls.

    One last thing: people have GOT to watch “Bad Santa” when it arrives in China. It’s the best movie I’ve seen this season–and yes, that includes “The Return of the King”!

  12. Well, I haven’t seen “Return of the King” yet, but I have to agree with Da Xiangchang about “Bad Santa”. Wow, is that movie out of control!

    1) Major contender for “most swearing possible in a motion picture” (up there with Scarface, South Park, and any R-rated Eddie Murphy movie)

    2) Major contender for “most alcohol consumed in a motion picture” (you actually feel hungover when it ends)

  13. Congrats on the new job in Shanghai!

    As someone who is currently in stage 2 (as you put it) of learning mandarin, I really appreciate your site. Currently I am teaching myself with the Pimselur method. But I was beginning to feel I was just really lame since I am having so much trouble with tones. (That and memorization of it all.)

    Thankfully my wife is willing to be a patient practice partner. Though she soes still laugh at some of my pronunciation. 🙂

    Have a happy,


  14. hey john,
    congrats on new job and apt. i want details! also this has to be quick (i am about to go frost christmas cookies) but i agree 100% about christmas in china. no big deal. but being home for christmas and shocking your family that didn’t know you were coming is AWESOME. makes christmas (or christnukkah) that much more special (and less hallmark-y). hope all is well in hz. i’ll be in sh on the 10th of january…hopefully we can meet up. say hi to all the boys for me! merry merry christmas!

  15. Interesting, because when I stopped caring about Christmas was when I moved to LA. From then on it became a non event. And Christmas for me is really about being in HK which then was where my family was. I guess HK isn’t really China, and that well my family isn’t completely Chinese.

    And anyway, tonight, since my parents are no longer in HK, I was adopted by one of my oldest friends and went and had dinner with his mom and dad, and his wife and also his dog. And we all had the whole shebang, and they even got me presents, and I was like, “Oh, yeah. I miss that kind of Christmas.” I even got a blender coz he got two and needed to regift, I felt like I won a raffle or somehting when I came home! Even though I was moaning about how it was so commercialized it was on my blog like a week ago.

    And on it my friend wrote this long post about how, yeah, in HK it’s so warm that Christmas isn’t so important, but now he’s in Europe it’s soooo important coz the winter is so utterly miserable and everyone needs something to look forward to and need a reason to go out.

    Not that you’re from anywhere really cold either. Florida is kinda warm.

    Anyway. I just thought I would add this to the mix in your thought process.


  16. I wasn’t able to have a great christmas with my family this year cos’ of my job in HK.. it sucked.

    How you like Shanghai so far? I’ll go there again and other places near shanghai next month with my parents for the spring festival.

    Happy boxing day!

  17. john,
    sorry you feel so removed from Christmas this year. i agree that getting away from the commercial aspects would be nice, but that religious/spiritual, family, and tradition pieces are important. interestingly enough, even in the midst of all the commercial rush, plus preparing things for the families and organizations i work w/, plus choir practice for our Christmas concert and midnight mass, plus actually getting to carry on our traditions w/ the other members of our immediate family, it didn’t feel much like Christmas on this end either. it kinda felt like it the week before, but not exactly. somewhat like arriving at a party after things have started to wind down or something.
    anyway, never fear, for i will be coming to visit and bringing some Christmas trappings and traditions w/ me! 😉 so we’ll get to celebrate Christmas AND chinese new year together — woohoo!

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