Christmas came much too early this year for me

Updated: 2011-12-13 07:41

By Bridget O'Donnell (China Daily)

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Christmas came much too early this year for me

One afternoon in November, I was strolling through a supermarket in Beijing on a quick errand. I had just grabbed a shopping cart when I was suddenly bombarded by something that could best be described as a scene straight out of a horror film from the North Pole.

Three miniature snowmen statues were in a circle holding hands, smiling as a particularly ear-deafening rendition of Jingle Bells played in the background. Each time the line "laughing all the way" came up, the children in the song cackled manically. It clashed horribly with the supermarket playing the insufferable Last Christmas by Wham! on repeat.

Meanwhile, towering over the whole scene was a pole that sprayed little Styrofoam balls all over the place. A poor substitute for snow. Next to the pole and between the gratuitous amount of Christmas trees stood a life-sized Santa with a saxophone.

I rolled my eyes in disgust. It was the second week of November. The holiday was a whole month and a half away.

I was on my way to the produce section when I immediately stopped in my tracks. That was Christmas stuff, I reminded myself. Christmas stuff on display in a supermarket - in China.

Oh my God, what is the world coming to?

Christmas came much too early this year for me

Let me explain. During my first Christmas in China two years ago, you wouldn't have known the holidays were approaching unless you happened to be at Walmart. Extravagant light displays, mall Santas and endless holiday ads being shoved down your throat ad nauseam were, quite literally, a foreign concept.

Initially, that first Christmas season away from home was a relief, especially after seeing holiday commercials debut earlier and earlier. But as Dec 25 approached, I began to notice something was missing from my annual December routine: Christmas music.

You see, in my hometown in the United States, there's a radio station that plays Christmas music 24/7 beginning every Nov 1. To say that's premature would be an understatement. Yet there's something about listening to those cheesy holiday ballads every relatively famous singer feels they need to produce that makes me feel at home. So naturally, the lack of Bing Crosby was starting to make me feel a little empty inside.

To add to my homesickness, Shenzhen - the not-exactly-international city I was living in at the time in Guangdong province - was so vastly different from my Michigan roots that I was beginning to wonder if I was in some sort of alternate universe where Christmas didn't exist. Gone were the thick blankets of snow I was so used to come each December. They were replaced by 20 C weather and palm trees. You couldn't put ornaments on those.

That Christmas Eve, I cracked. Following an emotional breakdown after receiving a holiday care package from home, I decided to cheer myself up by going shopping before heading over to a holiday get-together with some expat friends. (What's particularly pathetic is that the outburst was triggered by a musical card that played a Phil Collins song, but let's not go there.) On the way, I nearly fainted from excitement after stumbling upon a bakery that sold gingerbread houses. Instinctively, I bought one to take to the party.

It was by far the worst gingerbread house we'd ever consumed, but I didn't care. The novelty dessert served as a small reminder that Christmas existed in China. And that put my happiness on a par with George Bailey's at the end of It's a Wonderful Life.

And so after a change of heart that afternoon in the supermarket, I found myself humming along to the looping Wham! song as I finished my errands. And when I saw combination Christmas and Chinese New Year displays in another supermarket a few days later, my heart grew three sizes bigger.

But Chinese New Year decorations in November? Now that's a different story.