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So near, yet so feared: jingle fever

Cecilie Gamst Berg

 

"Yes, here in Guiyang we know how to celebrate Christmas," the taxi driver says proudly, as we sit stuck in traffic, or, rather, among screaming crowds of Guizhou teenagers carousing on Christmas Eve. "It's not like you foreigners. Or anywhere else in China."

He isn't kidding.

It used to be that, if you were not a big fan of the Jingle Bells hell that is Hong Kong at Christmas, you could get away from the whole jolly Yule by losing yourself in the mainland for the duration. Those days are long gone. Now our vast hinterland is celebrating Christmas as enthusiastically and with as little reference to Christ as Hong Kong ever did - and as usual with the things they copy, mainlanders have somehow managed to make it uniquely theirs.

Receptionists, waiters and medium-ranking government officials in Santa hats are, of course, nothing new, and neither are Christmas trees in hotel lobbies or the two shiny pictures of a red-cheeked Santa adorning every shop door, exactly like Lunar New Year decorations. Every hotel lift, shop and restaurant reverberates to Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Let it Snow and Frosty the Snowman . Even the sound system on the train from Guangzhou to Guiyang featured a Chinese girl singing All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth, the point of which was somewhat lost by her singing it without lisping.

So Christmas in the mainland has been going on for a while, but celebrations in Guiyang are something else entirely.

This Christmas Eve the streets were packed with girls wearing carnival masks; in a kind of Victorian vaudeville meets Venetian fancy dress party. Strange bouquets of teddy bears and toys made of pâpier maché wrapped in layers of gauze and plastic were as ubiquitous as flowers on Valentine's Day in Hong Kong, although more democratically priced.

On every corner were street sellers with metal balloons and Santa hats adorned with blinking rabbit ears and devil horns.

The bar street was choc-a-bloc with screaming, mask-wearing but benevolent teenage hordes. It was like a particularly frantic Rugby Sevens weekend evening in Lan Kwai Fong, only with more people, more vomit in the toilets and more exorbitantly priced drinks.

Some of the owners of these bars must have visited Hong Kong at Halloween and picked up a crafty captive-audience-exploiting trick or two: every one we went into insisted we buy a minimum of 24 big bottles of beer at twice the normal price, or clear off.

The evening culminated in a countdown to midnight and fireworks fired off willy-nilly, with a complete lack of concern for safety. And thus endeth the celebration of the birth of Jesus, Guiyang style.

 

 

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