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Christmas traditions shining bright in city

Twinkling lights, decorated Christmas trees and bustling markets with arrays of festive gifts. Christmas is not a holiday in China, but the spirit of the season still touches many of the city’s more than 170,000 foreign residents. Even some younger Chinese have joined in festivities by giving gifts to friends and family. Shanghai Daily reporters Yang Jian, Hu Min and Ma Yue talked to several foreign residents to discover how they are going to spend their Christmas this year.


In Britain: Merry Christmas!

Dennis Scott, a Briton who works at Commercial Aircraft Corp of China, said he will add a few British touches to his holiday.

“We’ve already visited Christmas markets at international schools,” Scott said, adding that his family also plans a trip to the German market.

Mulled wine is a favorite holiday drink, Scott said.

The family plans a Christmas Eve dinner, including traditional toy-filled crackers and paper hats. A German-Danish friend will join them and they will all watch, in English, an old German TV comedy sketch called “Dinner for One,” which is traditionally aired at Christmas time, Scott said. A pub visit might cap the evening.

On Christmas Day, it’s a traditional turkey dinner at the home of English friends. Expats who are away from their families will also be invited.

“It will be a true mix of cultures, reflecting cosmopolitan Shanghai,” he said.

Scott said Shanghai’s increasing embrace of Christmas commercial features, especially store and bar decorations and markets, make the holiday here seem more like home.

“We can’t expect Chinese friends and colleagues to feel the same way, but Christmas is a time of sharing and friendship,” Scott said.


In France: Joyeux Noel!

Celine Chanut, a Frenchwoman who has been living in Shanghai for more than four years, said she prefers going home for Christmas to celebrate a traditional holiday with family. It’s like Spring Festival, she said — a time of family reunions and good food.

But a trip home isn’t always possible. Last year, she spent Christmas in Shanghai, with French and Chinese friends.

They had a dinner of chicken stuffed with pork, herbs and red dates. The guests exchanged small gifts, such as chocolates.

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without French cheeses, added Chanut.

Although holiday-themed markets in Shanghai are gaining popularity among young people in Shanghai, she hasn’t visited any.

"They sound a bit too commercial to me,” said Chanut, who works in Shanghai as a consultant on cross cultural communications.

"I think some Chinese enjoy Christmas because it’s an opportunity to celebrate life, to share time with family and friends and to enjoy store sales,” she said.

"Every opportunity to enjoy life in a country where people work so hard is good, and experiencing other cultures can be fun,” Chanut said.


In Korea: Sung Tan Chuk Ha!

Ryan Choe, 31, was born in South Korea, but moved to Houston in Texas with his parents when he was young. This is his second Christmas in Shanghai, where he now works as an architect.

Choe is hoping Christmas this year will be better than last year, when he had to work until 2am on Christmas Day. It was pretty dispiriting, he said.

“A British friend of mine is hosting a party at his apartment, where roast duck and a traditional Christmas cake will be served,” he said. “There will be eight or nine of us spending Christmas Eve together, so definitely it will be much better than last year.”

Late December is usually the busy season for Choe’s profession, so he took some time off two weeks ago to return to the US to celebrate Thanksgiving with family.

Choe’s girlfriend, who works in Beijing, will fly down to Shanghai to spend Christmas with him. He said he plans to visit some of the Christmas-themed markets around the city to pick up a few gifts. His company is organizing a dinner the previous weekend for all the Chinese and foreign staff.

Choe said he’s noticed that some Chinese people, especially youngsters, are now celebrating Christmas.

“It’s a religion-based holiday, and people in Western countries traditionally make donations to charities or serve dinners to the poor on Christmas Eve.”


In Poland: Wesolych Swiat!

Jeremi Bigosinski, a Polish-American landscape designer who has lived in the city for four years, is planning a traditional Polish Wigilia for Christmas Eve. In Poland, the evening supper, traditionally meatless, comprises dishes such as picked herring, borscht (beetroot soup), more fish, ravioli-style uszka, dumplings, rye bread, sauerkraut and strudel.

“Making the typical 12-course Christmas Eve dinner is not possible in Shanghai, but I will manage a couple of them,” he told Shanghai Daily.

Bigosinski said he planned to go to a gift exchange over the weekend, where strangers give one another gifts. Next week, he will go to a German Christmas market in the city, and will attend church services on December 24 and 25. Then it’s back home to Norwalk, Connecticut, for a family reunion.

Bigosinski said a major difference between Christmas in Shanghai and Christmas in Connecticut is the lack here of traditional seasonal spirit of goodwill toward fellow men.

“Christmas is not just a shopping holiday but also a time of religious and family significance,” he said.

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