This Christmas, while wandering through spaces decorated for Christmas parties and romance, I realized that in Shenzhen, Christmas is a night of countdowns and parties because folks here think about Christmas as “western new year”. My Chinese friends and many others use associated festivities as means of making new intimacies, rather than confirming old intimacies, which is what they do at Chinese New Year’s. So last night, there were Christmas parties, romantic dinners, and declared intentions; today, I will go to a spa with friends and then have dinner at another friend’s house.
I’m not sure how many圣诞节s I have now spent in Shenzhen, however, I remain both dazed by interpretations of how Christmas might be celebrated in the total absence of religiosity and also overwhelmed by the kindness people have shown me because they know how hard it is to be away from family on days when we remember and assert intimate belonging. Alas, it is far too easy to reduce Chinese Christmas celebrations to another excuse to sell decorations and presents that didn’t get shipped to western markets, especially, when less than ten years ago people were still asking me which was more important, Christmas or Halloween? Nevertheless, today, I’m remembering that any shared holiday potentially exceeds our cynicism and yes, offers the chance of mutual redemption precisely because we gather.