I'm wishing you all an absolutely perfect Christmas holiday! In fact, when I close my eyes and pray to Jesus, I tell Him that each one of you must be surrounded by the smell of Christmas trees and ginger bread cookies. You should all be choking with laughter, overflowing with joy, surrounded by loved ones, and happily stuffed with holiday food. If any of these things seem unpleasant to you, Jesus knows what you like, and I've asked him to deliver it to you. OK, I know Jesus and Santa aren't the same thing, but I have some faith for sharing.
Let me tell you a little about Christmas in China...
The Big Picture: China as a nation is non-religious.. sort of. Perhaps the politically correct way to explain how Christmas fits into China, is to say that the holiday is acknowledged due to western influences brought on (probably) by the massive quantity of foreigners that have relocated here. The local's in Dongguan (DG) do not usually receive this holiday off-- Christmas isn't celebrated in China as a Chinese holiday, but merely acknowledged as a holiday of the western world--, but foreigners such as myself receive Christmas day off. It is a strange system, and for some reason, it frustrates my heart that not all employees receive the holiday off.
Work: EF celebrates Christmas in two ways. First, they throw a huge party for all of the students. We dressed up in costumes, made pizza, gave out presents, and sang some Christmas music. The weekly life clubs at school were all focused around the topic of Christmas, but explaining a holiday (and the meaning of that holiday), in a language that students are learning (and not necessarily proficient in), is complex. For instance, the smallest students, Small Stars, are 4-6 years old, and can only learn things such as how to say, "Merry Christmas" or recognizing images such as presents and Santa Claus. While the meaning behind Christmas can be explained to the older students, there is a great amount of variety among the teachers as to what exactly this holiday is about. Obviously, I have a biased opinion!
The second way in which EF celebrates Christmas is by throwing a work party for all the employees. Gary took us all bowling (yes, bowling in China!), and then to a Brazilian restaurant (think Rodizio Grill), for dinner. At dinner we exchanged secret Santa gifts, ate gratuitous amounts of food (insert cough), and enjoyed each other's company without the pressure of obligatory work related conversations. Aside from the frigid weather, and the unrelenting rain, the experience was quite wonderful.
Nancheng district: My garden is located in Nancheng district, DG. Karen and I took a stroll down Nancheng walking street, which is basically a street mall (kind of like the 16th street mall in Denver, or 6th st., down in Austin). During the evenings, walking street fills up. Shoulder to shoulder, Karen and I bump into each other and bump into strangers as we try and wiggle our way forward in the crowd. It takes a strange amount of concentration to not trip on the stones beneath my feet (nothing is truly level/flat in China, and walking can be treacherous), and not trip on small children ducking between their parent's legs and then shooting out into the sea of up&down people. Every storefront has a "Merry Christmas" sign on it, and most employees are wearing Santa hats. There is at least one Christmas tree on every block. They are enormous, fake trees, lit from top to bottom and covered in enough bling to justify my internal inkling to steal just one of those beautiful ornaments (I would never! Sort of...).
Beyond the clacking store clerks (who stand in the entry way of each store and try to goad us inside), more prominent than the smell of freshly baked bread (yeah, that's a big thing here), I hear Christmas Hymns. All of the stores are playing Christmas music-- not just Frosty the Snowman stuff, but true, real, gospel hymns. Of course, none of the store owners (or most, I'd bargain) have any idea what the songs are actually about. They probably selected their Christmas music list based on a search for "popular Christmas music."
Jesus, they are singing about Jesus. Karen and I walk side by side and sing a long. The crowd begins to part and people stare at us as we sing, "Christ the savior is born." This is one of the strangest feelings China has offered me yet-- it is the feeling of being surrounded by all things unfamiliar, but one single thing is like the tiniest candle light, and it transports my brain back home. These people are strangers, their culture is strange to me, they do not understand me (nor I them), and they do not understand this Christmas song. But because I understand the Christmas song, I am no longer in China. I travel through time, and I am sitting on a blue leather couch, watching our puppy tear up red wrapping paper, and laughing with my little sister while my brothers tromp around the living-room in their flannel pajamas. In China, I can time travel.
Christmas Day for Katy: Bee (colleague, roommate and friend), Karen (colleague and friend), and I are all planning on taking a day trip to Guangzhou. Guangzhou is the nearest large city, and this will be my first experience outside of Dongguan-- which is actually considered a small, industrial city. Guangzhou is wildly populated with foreigners, and visiting the city, I expect, will be less jarring because locals wont feel any need to stare at me (they see foreigners everyday, nothing new to see here)! Tomorrow morning we will take a bus to a subway, and a subway to a cab, and a cab to a hotel where we will drop our bags and hit the town. One day of wandering around the big city, one night in a Chinese hotel (dear God, I could commit murder for a bath tub or a hot tub). Christmas day in China will be a day filled with fierce girl time, and with these ladies, that always means good food and tons of laughter! I will report back about the adventure after it happens, and probably with some scandalous pictures!
For now, I'm wishing you all a very Merry Christmas! Be blessed, and know you are loved, and I'm praying for all of you. Cheers everyone!