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Christmas in Hong Kong is usually a snow-themed celebration of consumerism. Shopping malls go all out to decorate their atriums and plazas with, say, Thanksgiving Parade-sized Snoopy statues or Pokémon-filled plastic cottages, while office building dress themselves up with intricate lighting displays. It is a wholly secular affair, with nary a nativity scene to be found, all in service to the only holiday activity that matters: shopping. At least, that was the story until now. This Christmas, Hong Kong’s protesters are rebranding Christmas as a celebration of peace, freedom, and democracy.
As the protest movement against police brutality, eroding democratic rights, and a belatedly-withdrawn extradition bill moves into its seventh month, protesters are hijacking the Christmas card tradition under the #freehkxmascard hashtag. Instead of saccharine (and secular) messages of peace and joy, people are branding their cards with the memes and slogans from the ongoing movement. The bilingual card design below, for example, asks Santa for help with the movement’s five demands. Other cards carry similar messages — one directed towards folks overseas includes a “simple” Christmas wish: “to be able to breathe the air of freedom along with you all.”
Many card designs prominently feature protest mascots LiPig and Pepe the Frog with Christmas hats. The former, also known as LIHKG Pig, is based on a year-of-the-pig emoticon from LIHKG, a forum hailed as one of two digital organizing platforms of the movement. The latter, in Hong Kong, is “just a Hello Kitty-like character” detached from its American roots that has been picked up by protesters for its cynical sneers and funny faces. The two animals have both become enduring symbols of the protest, and their Santa costume is but one of the many forms they have taken over the past six months.
In the image above, each finger puppet references a specific protest meme: LiPig; a yellow raincoat to commemorate the first death related to the movement; Guy Fawkes, a perennial symbol of revolution; Pepe (Hong Kong edition); and Lion Rock, an iconic mountain where activists hung a giant yellow banner demanding universal suffrage in 2014.
One of multiple booths stationed across town to collect Christmas cards for detained protesters. pic.twitter.com/7xLicEu21S
— Rachel Cheung (@rachel_cheung1) December 14, 2019
These memes make remixed appearances in many of the Christmas card designs that people are handing out at restaurants, decorating at rallies, and mailing out to their friends at home and abroad. One restaurant we spoke to said that the protest-themed Christmas cards they were given to hand out at the front desk have already run out twice due to their popularity. Additionally, people are organizing collection drives for letters for currently imprisoned protesters, to “bring them infinite warmth, to accompany them during lonely nights, and to remind that the Hong Kong people have not forgotten them.”
In parallel to these anonymous groups’ efforts, Hong Kong artist Cheng Ting Ting created a limited edition silk-screened cards called “Christmas Tree on Fire,” which are based on a viral image of a shopping mall attendant trying to douse a giant Christmas tree fire with a tiny fire extinguisher. This absurd image is, to the artist, a metaphor for the government’s efforts to quell the protests. Her cards were given out in exchange for a donation to either FREEHKUSA or Spark Alliance, organizations that both support frontline protesters and are meant as a signal to people abroad that they too can directly support the movement.
The repurposing of the Christmas card tradition is not the first time Hong Kongers have remixed familiar media to raise awareness and support about the movement. Back in June, they took over commercial advertising space (with full-page posters) in over ten major international newspapers in the run up to the G20 summit after crowdfunding five million Hong Kong dollars (approximately $640,000). Then as now, they ask folks abroad to “Stand with Hong Kong.” Protesters continue to use vivid imagery to raise awareness and connect with an international audience — activating both Hong Kong’s vast diaspora network and political allies abroad.
The protesters’ playfulness and ingenuity with media is an important engine that drives the movement onwards. Their endless innovations ensure that there’s always something new to discover — whether it’s a new internet meme, slogan, song, action figure, exhibition or use of technology — keeping things fresh for participants and bystanders, nationally and abroad. These groups, in turn, make sure that the movement continues to occupy a central stage in the media and that those on the ground and front lines receive the support they deserve.