In the weeks leading up to the Christmas holidays, I had been repeatedly ask, do you celebrate Christmas?
Honestly, I’ve found this to be a strange question as Christmas is rather sown into the social fabric where I grew up – in the city of Hong Kong – a former crown colony.
Christmas has always been celebrated by local families. It is culturally engrained in the school’s education curriculum. As someone raised as a Catholic, Christmas to me was also a religious festival where I would spend quite some time singing and playing the organ at Church too.
Of course there is also a commercial element from Christmas decorations and lights to presents, but that is not too different from countries where perhaps Christmas has been considered more ‘traditional’.
There are also Christmas ‘dinners’ but not the same family-style as depicted in movies. It’s a time where all kinds of eateries put out Christmas specials – from high-end French restaurants to local chachaantengs.
Being more than a Hallmark holiday, Christmas also has important social meaning being a public holiday (plus Boxing Day) and a time where friends and families send each other good wishes – also as a chance to catch up – as a flurry of Whatsapp messages came through on my phone.
But this question somehow took me back to the time in 2014 when I took the ‘Life in the UK test’ as part of my naturalisation requirements. The first of the 24-question computer ‘quiz’ was ‘When is Christmas Day?’ Is it a true test of knowledge, or a patronising enquiry?
There was also recent controversy about the representation of UK families in the Sainsbury’s Christmas ad this year. Wasn’t the ‘White Man’s Burden’ the key reason for colonialism to happen in the first place, bringing to these countries religious thought and cultural practices, including key festivals and celebrations?
But this response, together with the question ‘Do you celebrate Christmas’, suggests how little is understood about modern global history. Christmas is probably one of those examples which show how transient our culture and identity are – and constantly shaped by world events. And judging from the galore of Christmas products on Taobao – China’s equivalent of Amazon – even if it’s not officially marked on the Mainland, perhaps Christmas has also slowly become one of the more important time of the year – albeit a commercial one. Isn’t this also a reflection of how connected we are as one humanity, sharing more similarities than differences?