Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Beijing prepares for Christmas

Well it's that time again. Christmas, that is. And Beijing has been preparing for this western festival for weeks. And just like in the west there is just as much commercialism surrounding this Christian festival. In the Tianyi market, in the north-west of town, Santa Claus toys, Christmas trees and a whole plethora of other festive stuff has been on sale for weeks. In Sanlitun, a popular haunt for expats and foreign visitors, the area is bedecked with lights and there are larger than life entertainers in costume posing for photos at weekends. In many other parts of the city, Merry Christmas, Season's Greetings and Happy X'mas adorns department stores and shops.

There are few reminders, if any seen, that the annual holiday relates to the birth of Jesus. Pictures of Santa and of large snowmen are everywhere, but any hints that this is connected to three wise men, a bunch of shepherds and a small baby in a barn are somewhat lacking. China after all is not a Christian country, despite the best efforts of many missionaries in the past. Just as often seen in the west, the religious context has moved over to make a profit. 

And there are vast profits to be made it seems. In the commercial areas of the city the department stores are packed with shoppers. Despite the huge disparity of wealth dividing Chinese society, there are many young Chinese, as well as some older ones, who have money to spend. And there are big efforts made to pull in the shoppers. Beijing's New World Department Store has spent 400,000 RMB ($51,000) on its huge 28 metre high, 16 metre diameter Christmas tree in an attempt to lure in custom.

Hotels and restaurants have also rolled out plans to attract people this festive season.  Some have been preparing since May, according to the China Daily. The traditional Christmas feast features highly on many calendars. And some venues are charging extortionate amounts. Beijing Landmarks Towers is offering a meal which will set customers back some 3,688 RMB ($470), though there is a party thrown in with renowned artists like Guo Degang and Yu Qian set to perform.

Other bars and venues are offering a slightly cheaper menu however. The Union Bar & Grille will have Christmas dinner on the 24th and 25th December, with Caesar salad, pumpkin soup, a choice of barbecued chicken or honey-glazed ham with black-eyed peas, sweet potato, stuffing, and gravy, and apple pie for 220 RMB ($32).

Branches of Blue Frog in Sanlitun and Shunyi districts have Christmas dinners on the 24th and 25th for 298 RMB ($43). For that customers will be served a mushroom soup, a mixed leaf salad, a choice of roast turkey and fixings or pepper sirloin steak, pumpkin cheesecake, choice of coffee, tea, and soft drink, as well as a glass of wine. The popular Irish bar, Paddy O'Shea's has a three-course turkey dinner, on the 24th and 25th, for 150 RMB ($22) which  includes a drink and the Schoolhouse at Mutianyu Great Wall will feature roast goose for its Christmas Eve dinner as well as some Christmas carolling!

For a more lively bash the Hard Rock CafĂ© hosts a Santa Rock Christmas on the 24th, with a buffet dinner and free flow house pour according to the flyer. Prices for this event start at 880 RMB ($128). But for those interested in something more traditional there is a gathering of Christmas carolers every Sunday at 6pm outside the Kempinski Hotel in Liangmaqiao Lu. And there is a recital of Handel's Messiah at the International School of Beijing on 19th December with tickets priced at 200-300 RMB ($29-43 RMB).

Official estimates suggest that only about 2% of China's 1.3 billion population is Christian. The true figure may well be higher, but for most people in China, expats, foreign visitors or indigenous residents, Christmas is not a religious holiday. It is instead a popular commercial holiday, during which a large amount of money is spent and an enormous amount of food and drink is consumed.

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

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