I love living in Shanghai. It is a rocking, go-go, wild west of a metropolis. It also has a large community of Western expats, to whom the local residents are generally very kind and accommodating. You see this in the way the people of this city treat Western, and particularly American, holidays. Not only are they supportive of them, in some cases they jump in wholeheartedly.
We have been in China long enough to experience two big American holidays (Cassidy would argue three since we were here for her birthday), and are now in the midst of the run up to Christmas. We have been amazed at how relatively easy it has been to keep most of our holiday traditions going here, though there were a couple of scares.
So let’s start with Halloween. Not my personal favorite holiday, but a major kid pleaser everywhere. We were told before we moved here that it was nearly impossible to find Halloween costumes in Shanghai. We should have listened, but costumes weren’t going to fit in the 12, already overstuffed, suitcases we originally brought to China. Karen and I were nervous about how the girls would react when we told them they wouldn’t have costumes for Halloween this year. And then an expat friend told us about an amazing little store in Puxi called Holiday House (no website, 1188 Panyu Lu, in Changning district. Phone # 6447-7189). We found more than enough choices of costumes, wigs and accessories to fulfill both Cassidy’s and Stephanie’s Halloween wishes. We also found out they stock Christmas decorations each year, starting in November.
The Chinese have no clue why we do what we do on Halloween, but they are willing to give it a go. Our development, Green Villas #7, did their best to get into the spirit of All Hallows Eve. First, they sent around a poorly translated note (this happens often, though they mean well) about what they were planning to do for the holiday. I talked with several of our neighbors after reading the note about 8 times and we all came to the conclusion that the development was planning to bus in waves of children to trick-or-treat here alongside our kids. This created a little bit of panic as we envisioned thousands of costumed children roaming through our neighborhood of 33 houses. Just how many kids were being bussed in and how much candy should we get, we wondered. And where do you get Halloween candy in Shanghai? Carrefour, it turned out.
Fortunately, one of my neighbors took her driver, who speaks Mandarin and English, to the main development office and got the straight story. The management company had organized an orderly night of trick-or-treating for kids from ours and a couple of neighboring developments. They posted security guys on every corner to guide kids to lighted houses and make sure they were safe. (There are a lot of security people in the developments here, with little or no apparent crime to justify their presence. Odd, but comforting.) Halloween was a hoot and we had about 60 costumed children grace our door, while our kids trick or treated with friends in the neighborhood.
Next up was Thanksgiving, which is a holiday I really enjoy. It’s usually spent at my in-laws (who I also really like), watching football with Karen’s nephews Eric and Scott, and drinking good craft beer with my brother-in-law John. Karen comes from a big family and Thanksgiving at her parent’s house is usually a mad, frantic, fun, and traditional affair. The whole thing is very casual and family-oriented, and provides a great opportunity to catch up with her siblings, who live in various parts of the U.S. It’s a blast, and for the first time in many years, we were going to miss it. The girls were sad about that and I was concerned that they were not going to have a happy Thanksgiving.
So I was determined to make our Thanksgiving dinner as traditional and fun for the girls as it was at “Nana and Pop’s.” I ordered a turkey from a great butcher shop here I’ve mentioned before called Yasmines (yasmines.com.cn) that supplies a lot of the meat we eat, as well as awesome homemade chicken nuggets that the girls love. (It also has a great restaurant downstairs from the butcher shop.) Recognizing the growing market of expat meat eaters in Shanghai, Yasmines has positioned itself as a western-style, high quality butcher shop that imports the majority of its meat from Australia and New Zealand. When they informed me that they had a line on good turkey from the U.S. this year, I was excited and ordered one right away. And the best news of all? For a nominal fee, Yasmines would cook and stuff the bird, package it up with some savory gravy, and send me home with the fixings for a good old fashioned holiday meal.
I went to Yasmines on Thanksgiving evening and they handed me a big, white styrofoam box sealed with tape and our name scrawled across the top. I have to say I was a little nervous about whether this would be a good enough meal to take the place of Thanksgiving in Michigan. It did cross my mind that if it wasn’t good, there was always Papa Johns Pizza (4008-88-7272, all Shanghai) around the corner from us. But no pizza for us that night! Yasmine’s made the best, most moist turkey I have ever had, and Karen and the girls will back me up on that. It was ridiculously good that night, great the next day, and spectacular the day after that. Along with the turkey and fixings, Cassidy made her Aunt Casey’s (almost) world famous cheesy potatoes, which included a good helping of bacon. It too was awesome. We finished the meal with an excellent pumpkin pie from Fields online market (fieldschina.com) and some very thin whip cream (they don’t really get the Cool Whip concept here yet). All in all, a fantastic Thanksgiving dinner in Shanghai… words I never ever imagined I would say.
And now it’s on to Christmas, the mother of all holidays in the West. In China, we have been surprised at how much people have embraced the secular side of Christmas. We live in the Jinqiao district of Shanghai, which is where many Western expats live, and many businesses are tailored toward that market so we expected the odd Christmas decoration here or there. Yet it’s still a little disconcerting to be in a Shanghai mall, full of Chinese shoppers, and hear Brian Setzer and Ann-Margaret singing “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” Clearly, the shopping side of Christmas has resonated here as many shops, stores, and malls have put up decorations and offer all kinds of holiday sales.
We, however, will not be here for the big day as we are going back to Michigan for Christmas. We are all looking very forward to seeing family and friends, but part of me would like to spend Christmas in Shanghai. Yes, holidays away are never as good as at home with friends and family, but there is something comforting and special about recreating a beloved celebration far from home. Thanksgiving would surely have been better had we been at Nana and Pop’s. But our little family of pilgrims in China was so pleased with how close we came to recreating that magic that Thanksgiving 2012 will be one that we will always look back on with fondness, and a bit of wistfulness.