Holidays in Shanghai could be much more civic and festive

By Juli Min Source:Global Times Published: 2016/12/28 18:08:39


Illustration: Lu Ting/GT

As a new wife, I enjoy imagining family traditions I'd like to create for my husband and our future children. We'll do presents on Christmas, order pizza and watch movies on Friday nights and do the Times crossword together over Sunday brunch. We'll do summer road trips in an RV with friends. I believe family traditions are what make a house a home, and are in large part what children end up treasuring from their youth. They are also sources of two of the most fundamental things youngsters need in life: consistency and a sense of belonging.

Throughout my own childhood, Christmas was always a wonderful family event. Every year, the holiday meant waking up early to the sounds of my mom in the kitchen. I'd rush down to help her prepare, then we'd wrap presents together, taping and cutting. This year, unable to travel back to New York, I felt a pang of sadness gearing up for the holiday season, knowing that I would miss these things.

In Shanghai, I tried to celebrate Christmas with my Chinese husband and in-laws as much as possible. I took them to small (and mostly disappointing) Christmas-style markets set up around the city. I bought a tree and decorations on Taobao, sticking little paper snowflakes on our balcony windows. I invited friends over for dinner and prepared gifts. From this I was able to create a small sense of tradition and to capture a bit of what Christmas means to me.

Yet a part of what made me miss Christmas back home was not just family traditions but also the fact that I wasn't actually home in New York, to me one of the most beautiful cities (if not the most beautiful) to visit during the winter. Traditions are rooted to a place as much as they are to one's family. New York does the holiday season particularly well, turning its miserable winters into a much-anticipated event: window displays along Fifth Avenue, the gigantic Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, ice-skating at Bryant Park and Radio City's Christmas Spectacular are all unrivaled.

Yes, I've seen some beautiful decorations in Shanghai this winter, and I know that during Chinese New Year, Yuyuan Garden will be exquisitely lit. But given China's extraordinary proficiency in manufacturing and mobilizing labor, why haven't the city's public spaces been used to their maximum potential leading up to the most festive Chinese and Western holidays of the year?

Parks could be transformed, a la New York, into ongoing winter activities like ice-skating rinks. Or Shanghai could support small businesses by setting up markets and fairs where people can buy gifts for Christmas and Chinese New Year. Street vendors could be rounded up for winter night markets that peddle local cuisines which indubitably would attract both locals and tourists.

I remember walking along Wukang Road this past autumn, when the district announced it would officially stop sweeping leaves in celebration of the fall season. The crisp brown and orange leaves banked along the sidewalks and pedestrians strolled along the streets, weaving in and out of shops while nibbling on snacks and ice cream. It is a great annual autumn activity, but I wish there were more such public holiday traditions here in Shanghai.

In the summers, given the popularity of dancing in parks, the city might consider creating a series of professional dance lessons (or, tai chi classes, or public movie screenings). On a visit to Chicago several years ago, my husband and I happened upon a dance class in a park and spent an afternoon learning how to swing with the locals. It is one of the best memories I have of that trip.

As the "matriarch" of my new little family, it is my duty to create fun and memorable events for the ones I love and to design traditions that will give us a sense of unity and continuity through time and place. But the city can and should also help create as many of these opportunities for its residents. It will give us more memories, more fun, more reasons to stay instead of traveling and more opportunity to proclaim the motto already displayed everywhere along the Bund: "I Love Shanghai."

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Times.


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