Pictures, models, facsimiles of Santa are not unusual this time of year on the mainland. They sparsley decorate a few stores, may be found in restaurants and media advertising. Many Chinese can correctly point him out in a line-up with the seven dwarfs. So too, they can finger a Christmas tree from a Japanese maple. But these are mere curiosa never touching the lives and hearts of the people.
Standing for What?
Not so the church, the building, the structure. If there is a Christian house of worship in one of the chosen cities, on Christmas Eve, it is a sight to behold in China.
Foreigners wishing to attend Christmas Eve service had better arrive early, very early or they will never get even close to the gate. Lines of curious commoners circle and engulf the building. Hundreds of people crowd the courtyards and queues flow into the street.
Music and chorus are absent above the chatter and banter outside. Should travelers wishing to attend mass be fortunate enough to make it inside, they will be surprised. Not a western face in the building. All are Chinese. Locals, migrants, relatives, visitors, the important, the unimportant – all are curious.
Slammed, crammed, packed and stacked, people vie for a view of the pulpit and choir. But, neither the Reverend Jacob Black nor the Vienna Boys Choir is sharing the service on this evening. In their place, as was last year and the year before is a reverend in a white robe giving a sermon in Chinese. There is no organ, there is no choir. The early comers are sitting in pews closest to the preacher. Their eyes look up at him while their fingers rest on pages of open Bibles. The outlying pews and aisles are filled with the informed along with the curious. The late comers fill the second and third floor tiers, hallways and entrances. Most of the folks in these areas have no entrance, have no view, have no clue. They are here because they heard about it on the grapevine. It’s quite a sight. A full house, as all churches would like to be.
And in the End
A person wishing to attend Christmas Eve services attends to celebrate a birth, peace on earth and good will towards men. They go to hear a sermon and to join in the chorus. But the spirit of Christmas is not for just a few. It reaches many and sometimes without ever hearing the choir.