When people throughout the world think of Christmas Eve, they think of presents sitting under the Christmas tree, stockings hanging over a burning fireplace, children gazing out their bedroom windows for a glimpse of a sleigh led by reindeer.
For some people it is a time of family or religious importance. For other people it is a quiet night of anticipation for the glory that Christmas brings to all.
But for the people of Chongqing, China, Christmas Eve is something truly different. In fact, it is a night where the young generation pour into the city streets in costumes wielding giant inflatable hammers in order to whack each other over the head with them.
We ventured out of our hostel around eleven and no sooner had we turned the corner, we were met with mobs of teenagers in costumes and Mardi Gras style hats. Street vendors were mingling with them selling giant inflatable hammers and other cartoon-worthy inflatable club-like instruments.
We decided to steer clear of them as they were viciously attacking anyone who came near them with a barrage of whacks and coloured foam spray from aerosol cans. Everyone was having a hoot. Except the police who were out in numbers.
We survived the constant onslaught unscathed and made it to the incredibly crowded Jiefangbei Square, the main city square. Chongqing’s Christmas Eve night festivities culminates with the ringing of midnight below the city’s famous clock tower in the middle of the square, also known as the People’s Liberation Monument.
Managing to squeeze to the centre, we had the perfect vantage point to watch the clock tower tick towards midnight. With the 10 second countdown on a massive screen on the side of a building, it felt more like New Years Eve, which was only a week away anyway.
Then as the bell tolled, hundreds of crowd gatherers released heart-shaped balloons into the sky. Literally thousands of balloons, some on long lines. Truly spectacular!
When morning broke, we ventured out again to see the mess left behind from last night’s carnage. But the streets were clean, no drunks lying around, no rubbish anywhere. Upon closer inspection we even discovered the brightly lit green Christmas was in fact a giant advertisement for 7UP and made completely of 7UP bottles!
Traditional family Christmas lunch of roast turkey and pudding would this year be replaced by teppanyaki! Merry Christmas to us!
We then set off for a visit to the Chongqing Museum/China Three Gorges Museum. Inside were some great photographs and a detailed look at the history of the city, the Three Gorges of the Yangtze River and construction of the infamous Three Gorges Dam. The scale model of the dam was very cool, especially if you had cruised through the dam previously. Although we hadn’t.
Directly across an expansive open plaza is The Great Hall of the People, which was pretty great from the outside, but we didn’t go inside. The big red-tiered dome looks impressive and its size is unexpectedly grand when you get up closer.
Visited 24th to 26th December 2013.