Nuremberg is a better choice than Kunming if you need to indulge your Christmas nostalgia.  But if you happen to be in Kunming, why not give it a try?

I often bicycle past the apparently generic Protestant church on Peoples’ Avenue West, and when I saw the Christmas decorations go up, I was drawn to stop in and check the calendar of Advent events for a service of Christmas music.  Indeed a flier promised just such a service on the Saturday before Christmas.

The major offering was Händel’s “Messiah”, the Christmas section.  The cognitive dissonance of a choir, perhaps forty strong, all dressed in Miao traditional costumes and intoning Händel was markedly greater for me than the musical dissonances:  they had rehearsed diligently and did a creditable job.  Choruses were rendered in Chinese; recitatives in English by professional voices.

The musical accompaniment, unfortunately, was by piano.  No strings, no oboes, no harpsichord.  What’s more, the enthusiastic pianist took his pianoforte instrument to heart.  Poor Händel, who never heard a piano; I think he would not have liked the reduction.

More unforgivable yet were the two lengthy interruptions for clerical declamation.  I couldn’t follow the drift of the contents, but the tone of voice brought to mind “harangue” rather than “homily”.  Not the sweet voices of angels heralding the lowly birth, but two strident ladies, obviously well trained in the preaching profession.  The Little Lord Jesus himself would surely have cried to hear it.

Added to my growing malaise was the peculiar architecture of the church building: from nowhere in the capacious balcony could one see the chancel;  the view was transmitted by not-so-great-resolution, closed circuit television screens.  Altogether more grating than sublime.

God forgive me that the following Friday, Christmas Eve, I was more open to the secular suggestion of a colleague to join in the larger congregation of merry-makers downtown.  I had class until eight-thirty that evening, and so, to make up for lost time, we hailed a cab.  First shots over the bow was the cabbie’s “No way I’m taking my cab downtown.  Take a bus.”  “Walk” would have been better advice.

It was nearly ten before we made it to the pedestrian zone in central Kunming.  It seemed that the entire younger set of Kunmingians must have been there.  It was not a shopping frenzy, as most of the shops were already closed; just an aimless frenzy.  The plot grew curiouser and curiouser as it appeared more and more street vendors were hawking masks which seemed to be a wholesale purchase of left-over Mardi Gras paraphernalia. Particularly intriguing were the tiaras of illuminated horns, distinctly Diabolical horns, not Rudolfian.

The major item for sale, however, were boxes upon boxes of aerosol cans which emitted faux-snow.  (Christmas Eve was somewhat white, but certainly not green.)  Armed with these, roving bands of youths attacked anyone in their path.  As a hoary-haired Caucasian I seemed to draw extraordinary fire.  Teetering on the edge of amusement and annoyance, I regretted my secular choice and wondered what would He do.  “Love thine enemy” echoed from somewhere.  And so — with a sexist discrimination, I confess — I to took to counter-attacking my assailants with a bear-hug, a few waltz-like turns, all the while chanting “Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas” in my best American English.

I hadn’t really thought through the consequences of His noble precept, and didn’t have an exit-strategy in mind.  My bear-hug surges worked unexpectedly wonderfully in that mine enemy loved my loving response and doused me all the more with the gooey white stuff.

Extricating ourselves down an alley, we slumped our way back to campus.  Instead of an exposition on the Gospel to my heathen friends, I wound up narrating the pagan traditions behind the European street parties of Fasching and Mardi Gras.

I’m feeling a little peevish about the whole thing.  I don’t begrudge anyone a good Solstice Bash, but why do they have to preempt our symbols, our slogans, our date?  Ah, how easily our egocentricities bring on amnesia.  All the great, dispossessed gods of Europe have finally made league with the Chinese to avenge themselves.  Thor has taken back his Christmas tree; Saturn has reclaimed his Saturnalia.

Hope you all had a lovely Christmas.

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