It’s the holiday season, but it hasn’t felt like it at all. I’ve been going to work as usual, and as the temperature hovers in the low 40s, there’s no snow, and I haven’t been surrounded by the usual barrage of Christmas decorations and advertisements, my American capitalist Christmas/Thanksgiving spirit has been at an all time low. I didn’t realize how much of “Christmas” as I have always known it is created by the ambiance. Christmas is not really celebrated in China, and neither is Thanksgiving.
My Thanksgiving day was spent in the usual routine of work, broken only by beginning each class with a mini-lesson on Thanksgiving. However, I have been blessed with such a wonderful community of ex-pats, that I ended up participating in three Thanksgiving meals, one hosted by my church, and two hosted by my school.
My boss, Sheena, is Chinese, but her husband, Kirk, is American, and they have lived alternately in China and the US for years. Sheena’s English is as good as it gets, and her understanding of American holidays and traditions is excellent. As a thank you, all the teachers, security guards, cooks, and drivers were invited to Sheena’s house (one night for each of the two branches). As the foreign teacher, I was invited to both dinners.
It was amusing to watch my Chinese co-workers experience turkey and pumpkin pie for the first time. Most Chinese people dislike turkey, and baking is not part of the culture, so they don’t anticipate this kind of food with the same relish as westerners. There was a hilarious moment when one of my co-workers began to stir up the sweet potato pie to cool it down. She did not realize that it wasn’t meant to be stirred, and my boss didn’t realize until it was too late what she was doing. Not only that, but as my co-worker finished carving the turkey, he deposited the whole carcass on the plate of carved meat, along with the stomach, intestines, etc. When my boss told them we don’t eat the stomach, one woman darted in, snatched the stomach from the plate, turned around and shoved it in her mouth like it was a delicacy. I could not help but laugh at that.
The evening was filled with laughter and games, which I was able to participate in only because some of them did not require speech. Even though I had no idea what was happening most of the time, it was a good night of bonding with my coworkers. I explain this experience more in this video.
My church also hosted a potluck Thanksgiving dinner, which was a wonderful time of fellowship and good food. I have been so thankful for my church in the time that I have been in China–everyone has been so supportive and I’ve made so many friends there.
As Christmas approaches, I’ve seen a few decorations appear here and there, but nothing like what would be seen in the US. The most “Christmas-y” places have been in the homes of foreigners. Yesterday, my pastor’s wife hosted a cookie exchange for the women of the church. I made hamantaschen–cookies my Oma has always made for Christmas–and we enjoyed an evening of eating cookies and watching Christmas movies.
My time at work has been taken up with preparing the kids for the Christmas program that will take place at a fancy hotel on December 26. My six-year-olds are killing Go Tell It On the Mountain, singing with gusto and serious sass. So far, I feel pretty good about the program.
As Christmas (and my birthday) approach, I’ve become more and more thankful for all the amazing friends I’ve made in China. Even though I will be away from my family for the first time for my birthday and Christmas, I know I will still have people to celebrate with. Since my birthday is Christmas Eve, it has always been a big deal in my family. We are always together, and we have practiced the same routine on my birthday my whole life. My friend Nicole has gone out of her way to plan an awesome birthday party for me this year, and though it will be different, I will be creating new memories. While it may not “feel like Christmas,” ultimately the “feeling” is not what Christmas is about–its about celebrating God’s gift of Jesus to the world. With that in mind, I want to focus on serving those around me, rather than missing the “Christmas feeling.”