Seriously, I thought I would be struggling to come up with 25 Christmas ideas for this blog series. But that was before I fully appreciated the lengths people will go to in order to bring a little of their home’s Christmas traditions to their adopted country, China. Take today, for example. We have a wonderful German friend, (with an equally wonderful Australian wife), who just happens to be the general manager of The Longemont Hotel in Jing’an. He invited our children to the hotel today to help light their enormous Christmas tree, a great privilege and one eagerly taken up by the girls and their two friends. In the lobby was the biggest, sparkliest Christmas tree ever, with Christmas lights hung from all the balconies and staircases. It looked spectacular. In the lobby cafe sat a giant gingerbread house covered in sugar snow, big enough to walk inside, and warm, spiced gluhwein was being served by Santa’s helpers. Really, I could have been in Frankfurt.
Before the lighting of the tree, The Longemont staff choir sang Christmas carols in English. They came from far-flung Wuhan, and Sichuan, where Christmas is unheard of and un-celebrated. Recently arrived in Shanghai to start their hospitality training at the hotel, none of them can actually speak English. Can you imagine singing five songs in Chinese in front of a crowd of Chinese speakers with your boss looking on? Like being naked in public. I’m sure I’ve had a nightmare along those lines…. They did an amazing job, and finished with Edelweiss. Not a dry eye in the house.
Then Santa popped up, but he was ever such a Chinese Santa, way too skinny, with glasses, and a slight problem with his whiskers getting up his nose. He did try a few ‘hohohos’ but he had a soft gentle voice and it just didn’t quite sound right. So he rang his bell and handed out gifts to the children in the crowd, then felt a little awkward and went to hang out at the concierge desk, which is probably where he usually works.
What followed was an incredible lunch together, with the table decorated surprisingly with gumnuts. Gumnuts! Can you imagine? We snatched them up and smelled the wonderful eucalyptus smell, brought in a shoebox all the way from Brisbane to Shanghai by the manager’s wife. We would often use them to decorate the Christmas tree or the table at home. So we went home having had a little touch of Australia, and Germany, in Shanghai.