america, books, charles dickens, christmas, cinema, culture, england, family, film, food, harry potter, history, holidays, j. k. rowling, life, memory, movie, music, nostalgia, pop culture, reading, television
I am Chinese, my family is small and we are not religious. We don’t do gifts and parties, nor do we transform our home into a tricolour tinsel and cedar wonderland. I never even believed in Santa, thanks to my mother’s casual ‘Santa and magic and stuff are not real, it’s all made up’ when I was very young.
For Christians, Christmas is the birth of Jesus. For the non-religious, it is about Santa, reindeers, and snow. For us, it is a time to eat together: we mark the day celebrated by many with food and family, the pillars of Chinese culture, and I would not have it any other way.
But Christmas itself—be your take on it Christian or capitalist—is not Chinese, no matter how I celebrate it. Christmas in my mind is a kaleidoscope of Anglo-American sights and sounds.
On the page, it is decidedly English: Charles Dickens and J. K. Rowling. Dickens’ tales about everyone’s favourite miserable sod and poor orphan instantly springs to mind, closely followed by Rowling’s magical candlelit Hogwarts banquet teeming with happy wizard children stuffing their bright young faces with never-ending food.
On the screen, it is American, starting with Kevin McCallister whose kerosene-soaked adventures at home and in New York City I follow every December 25th with the rest of my family (and, as it turns out, the whole of Poland). From the cheeky little booby trap genius we move on to Sex and the City‘s indémodable Carrie Bradshaw, walking home in the snow, up those stairs and into that apartment, tempting viewers with the taste of New York apartment life conjured by a thousand films.
Next, we take a leap back in time, right into the cosy suburban home of some idyllic mid-century nuclear family, where we find smartly clad Mother and Father sipping champagne and whiskey around the Christmas tree; where, on the floor, gold-headed, red-ribboned Dolly and chestnut-haired Sonny are tearing open neatly wrapped boxes of toys from well-meaning relatives. They live in a snug house just like the ones on their left and right, and yellow light floods through the living room window into the snowy street—empty save for the Christmas paraphernalia because baby, it’s cold outside!
Speaking of which, on the speakers too it is American. My philosophy is to blast Crosby, Sinatra, Martin & Co. or have myself a silent night because nothing sounds as good as nostalgia, and at Christmastime I shall be very cross indeed without vintage crooners to stir my faux-memories of 1950s America, inherited from old films and illustrations.
So, on Christmas Day each year, the food and family are Chinese but the music and movies are American, and the written word English. How jolly, how merry it all is. Merry Christmas, ya filthy animal!