It’s New Year’s day here in the mainland (at least for another hour) and almost everywhere else too. The traditional Western holiday’s stretching over the Christmas/New Year period always feel a little confused here in Shenzhen. With Chinese New Year only three weeks away, and with neither of our festivals meaning very much, you’d think that this season would be pretty much ignored.
Unfortunately that’s not quite true, whilst the spirit of the occasion may not be well understood the opportunity for making money is. Therefore every commercial unit of any real size is now covered in Christmas trees and reindeer, complete with fake snow, and as much of Shenzhen’s surplus LED product as can be found and nailed to a wall.
It isn’t that you don’t appreciate people having a stab at taking on your culture, more that you can see it for the cynical exercise it is. The Chinese don’t really give gifts; they give money – “hong bao” on special occasions (properly delivered in a traditional red envelope). Nor do they have much in the way of religion, and while the official Christian and Islamic faiths of the country are gaining some momentum there are still 1.2 billion people here with no professed religion at all.
Thus the last week has consisted of being greeted by Chinese people you’ve met a few times all wondering where their presents are, without considering that maybe it’s you they should be treating as they’ll have their hands out again demanding hong bao in a few weeks anyway.
Having said that, the local expat community is always happy to embrace any excuse for a party and Christmas Day was well spent in a nice Chinese 5 star hotel with turkey and all the trimmings. New Year’s Eve was spent in an expat bar drunkenly seeing in the New Year, and today has been one of hangovers and already broken New Year’s Resolutions. Pretty much like everywhere else in the world. So in the end, China’s not really all that different from home at the start of 2012.