I wasn’t home for Christmas (or my birthday) for the first time in my life. My birthday is Christmas Eve, which makes the poignancy of the holiday even more potent. It was the most difficult then I was alone at work on the morning of my birthday, imagining that I would usually be eating a large breakfast or opening my birthday presents if I were in the US with my family. However, I told my 6-year-olds in Chinese 今天是我的色生日 (Jintian shi wo de shengri) (Today is my birthday) and their mouths dropped open and they all started waving and shouting in English “Happy Birthday! Happy Birthday!” So, my 6-year-olds were the first to wish me a happy birthday in person, and absolutely made my morning.
After work, I headed over to Joel and Jessica’s to spend the rest of the day with their family (as well as Nicole and a friend of theirs from the States, Natalie). Lilia, their 5-year-old daughter, greeted me at the door with a home made birthday card. My parents had sent me the happy birthday sign that was purchased for the occasion of my 1st birthday and has been used every year for the past 23-years, so Joel helped me hang that up for the sake of tradition.
I helped Joel decorate and bag hundreds of Christmas cookies that their family gives away to friends and neighbors, bearing a little card in Chinese containing a bit of the Christmas story. This endeavor took us three hours, with a Bible major and an English major trying to figure out math and fractions, but we were ultimately successful.
In the evening, my roommate joined us and we sat down to a delicious dinner of enchiladas, a meal containing copious amounts of cheese, as cheese is a delicacy for foreigners in China because it is difficult to come by. Cheese is not a natural part of the Chinese diet, so foreigners relish every bit of cheese they come across.
After dinner, Lilia could no longer contain herself, and blurted out that they had made a birthday cake for me–which was supposed to be a surprise. Jessica then began to pull candles out from various places in the house and light them. I started to laugh, recounting the couple of years when my mom had forgot to buy birthday candles, so we had used all the regular house candles, turning the cake into what we would jokingly call “pagan ritual birthday.” Jessica only smiled. When all the candles were lit and the gorgeous cake brought out, Jessica said, “Now, I asked your Mom about traditions you do for your birthday . . . ” and I burst out laughing. So, the “pagan ritual birthday” candles were not a coincidence. Jessica had been in contact with my mom about things she could do to make my birthday special, which was so nice, and far more than I expected. As I have said before, I am so blessed by incredible people around me.
Here’s a video of the lighting of a special, very Chinese candle that includes explosives and singing.
Nicole spent the night at my house because I live much closer to Joel and Jessica’s than she does, so Christmas morning we could head back to their house bright and early for Christmas brunch of cinnamon rolls and breakfast casserole. China does not celebrate Christmas, so it was a regular work day outside. Only inside Joel and Jessica’s did it truly feel like Christmas.
The rest of the day was spent hanging out, talking and laughing and just enjoying being together. For dinner, Jessica had gathered good, fancy cheeses and meats with which to make cracker towers, a definite delicacy in China. We made sure there was nothing left.
Christmas turned out to be almost as wonderful and relaxing as it is with my family at home. Though not quite the same, I am so grateful for good friends who are willing to take in a girl who has no where to go on Christmas.
Saturday night was my birthday party, planned by Nicole and executed to perfection.
The night started with 9 of my new friends from China (American, Chinese, German, and Korean) heading to a private room in a nice restaurant and ordering many excellent Chinese dishes.
After dinner, we walked down to the nearest KTV (kareoke) place, and I got to have a very Chinese experience–renting a room for our group to do kareoke. This is a very popular thing to do in Qingdao, and on a Saturday night, the place was filled with young, Chinese people. We definitely made a spectacle, a gaggle for foreigners traipsing into a KTV place.
Everyone had a blast singing along to different popular songs, and not only did we have people in our group singing English songs, but we had a number of Chinese and Korean songs too. Kareoke is a fun thing to do because if you don’t want to sing, you don’t have to, you can just talk and listen.
While nothing I did for Christmas or my birthday was what I am used to, I still had a wonderful time of celebration. I am very lucky to be surrounded in this foreign country by people who care about me, and go out of their way to make my birthday special.