In a sixth-grade level of an answer: sort of.
They do not seem to celebrate it enough to make me miss home, but they celebrate it enough to be mildly entertaining.
The decorations mainly went up about a week (maybe two) before Christmas. The decorations were the entertaining part. The majority were typical trees, bows, and Santa Claus paraphernalia, but all with a cultural twist to them.
First off, nobody knows what Christmas really means. Well, no one I've met. Like home, it's a money scam, and here, an idea to attract foreigners for business profit. They will throw a picture of Santa Claus over a toy, but nobody seems to know the story behind the fat, jolly old man. There are no crosses, lambs, Wisemen, or baby Jesus' around. I've seen Santa's, snowmen, tinsel and bells hung in EVERY color and every size, omitting the true sense of Christmas and replacing it with "holiday" accents. Since when is Santa pink?
The most entertaining element about the decorations is what they say. How can you screw up Merry Christmas? I've seen decorations that read: Happy Christmas; or, Happy Christmas and Happy New Year. Many signs would reveal a word and not a sentence. For example, a bow that simply read: Christmas; or a bell that read: Jingle Bells. Christmas trees and tinsel went up in some areas. In comparison to what we are used to, as Americans, any one of us might argue that the way they do Christmas is nonetheless TACKY. Gaudy even. I am talking huge gold trees, silver trees, pink trees, red trees, etc., with repetitive bulky ornaments (stars, bells, reindeer, bows) bouquet-ed all over them. They certainly be lovin' red and gold, I'll tell you that much.
|Quick, get my Ray Ban's|
I cannot skip out on the festive baked goods in some of the western-style cafes and bakeries. I could really kick myself for not taking pictures of the madness while I had the chance. Where do I begin? To celebrate Christmas, some places opted to create molded chocolate Santa masterpieces (larger than your I-Pad and I am not talking mini), weird Christmas people who have nothing to do with anything, etc. For me, these Christmas creatures were the ultimate giveaway that nobody truly celebrated or understood Christmas over here. Some of these chocolate creations came in different colors. Must have mixed Christmas up for Easter. If someone handed me a red chocolate elf (with its beady, hollow eyes) that was twice the size of my rabbit, I'd turn the thing into a voodoo doll and melt its face off. That or repackage it and give it to someone who let the door hit me in the face one too many times. The nerve. Those Christmas sculptures of chocolate, cookie and RED BEAN were SCARY and the only people I saw buying them were Chinese. Just sayin.
WANTED: Music for cause of homesickness.
There were certainly times I missed home throughout the holiday. I should have just steered clear of Starbucks. They brought in their seasonal beverages, set out all of their overpriced Christmas merchandise and played endless cheery Christmas music. Oh, it felt like home! Bring me figgy pudding grandma! Fatten me with your chocolate cookies and intoxicate me with your eggnog! Fight family-battle away! Grandmother, tell me one more time what I'm doing wrong or how someone else is doing it better! Father, joy to the bar! Mother, no joy in the kitchen! Sisters, let's jingle bell rock to the echo of mind numbing controversies! Regardless, it's love. Suddenly I'd find myself thinking about my nephews, Kaylie, Bri, my sisters....my grandma <3 Ugh, I missed them. I'd imagine us celebrating Christmas in a way that was pleasing to the heart, but would later realize that Christmases never really turned out like that due to long work hours (to afford the gifts), class, studying, traffic, or bad weather. For me, it was always the thought of next year.
Speaking of music, another place that played (and is still playing) Christmas music was McDonalds. Every Thursday, if it's raining (and it usually is), I spend about 30 minutes at a McDonald's in warmth and sip my coffee between classes. They started playing Christmas music in early November and still haven't stopped (it's almost February). I'm not sure which is more predictable: the Christmas music to be played or the amount of bums who tinker in and nudge you for money. They both. Get. Old.
Bah, I was not trained for this.
Christmas with my first and second graders was great. I spent 2 sessions with them trying to explain the traditions of Christmas. On top of our language barrier, they were too young to fully understand the history of Christmas so I stuck to traditions. Although I did ask my collaborating Chinese-English teacher to explain some of the religious history with a link to an online presentation. I thought explaining Christmas traditions to them would be simple enough to foreign kids, but it wasn't. Silly rabbit.
I cannot access YouTube on the computers at school, so some of the educational videos I found were more or less useless. I found myself in disbelief how nearly every person uses YouTube as a source for video uploads. China can't see it; use something else! I gave up on videos and turned to power points. I could not find anything that was fundamental/entertaining enough for my kids to understand. I tried putting together my own power point, but I have to use this "ghetto" program that requires decades of patience and half the time will reformat itself once I upload it to the computers at school. I really wanted my kids to enjoy my Christmas lesson AND understand it.Go big or go home.
I was way more nervous than anything when my face was on that big screen in the classroom and those preliminary phrases were flying from my mouth. Suddenly I felt vulnerable to ridicule and haters. However, I would call it a success because each class seemed to be out of their seats while watching it and made some pretty enthused, responsive noises throughout. If I could do it over I would have shortened it by two minutes and I would have added a question or two along with the answer. I sent it to Val and he said he was so inspired he was making his own video. He asked permission to show it to his classes. Feedback like that made it worth it; even if I do look like one of the Wiggles :[ But NOT the purple one.
I have to say, this will be one of the most memorable Christmases I've had yet. Christmas alone has made this whole adventure worth it. The culture here has taught me so much about MY OWN and the things that WE DO differently from EVERYONE ELSE. We don't realize the ways in which WE are DIFFERENT because we aren't surrounded by anything but what our society creates; because we expect people to think and live like us; and because we tend to negate ourselves from accepting the unknown. I've come to appreciate holidays different from my own, as well as the various ways of celebrating them. For example, Teacher's Day!
This year I received a priceless Christmas present: my boyfriend flew in from New Jersey and would be staying with me for a WHOLE MONTH! You have no idea the excitement and anticipation that pulsated through my body as the days drew closer to his arrival.
Christmas, as well as Christmas Eve, were full work days and would be the first time Brandon had ever seen a Chinese school and me teach! I could not believe he was about to watch ME teach in a CHINESE school. I just couldn't even comprehend it. He barely had any time to allow the culture shock to sink in. It all came at once for him. I HAD TO WORK.
I got back, and we spent the afternoon walking around the area I live. There was so much to say! He was in a different world. He was now entering the world I had been talking about for months. He would FINALLY understand. I pointed out markets, all the hanging meat and clothes, the everyday traffic, the constant noisy construction, shaggy apartment buildings, where I tutor, places I used to live, my office, and I introduced him to street food. Underground meat and grease. My God he loved chicken boutza, or steamed bun. For lunch I took him to a hole-in-the-wall noodle/joutza (steamed dumpling) joint right at the center of a typical, run-down, haggard side street. Dogs roamed, people picked trash on the hour, and in the summers, some would sponge bathe outdoors in large bowls right in the street. I'm sure many of you have bedrooms larger than the little restaurant we ate in. They practically cook everything outside. I ordered us chicken soup. The soup here is nothing like the soup at home and one of the few reasons is because they ONLY use freshly soft noodles. It is SO GOOD. They do not dice anything nicely for you. With their hands, they will pull apart and throw in vegetables; they do not chop egg, they throw in the whole egg; and they only serve a little bit of meat which comes out in big or small hacked chunks. Chicken always comes on the bone. I had to explain to Brandon that he had to use his chopsticks and eat the chicken off the bone if he wanted any meat. Watching this was hilarious. He gave in and used his hands. He reminded me of myself when I first got here.
|Brandon's first tea|
|Brandon's first joutsa|
Later I took him to the university I tutored at. He met Carrot, Sampson, Bobby, Bryan and Joyce for the first time. My students greeted me with Christmas chocolate. Truffles, Rochet, a big chocolate bar with dried strawberries all over it, and a chocolate (kids) egg. It was cute. I had them make Christmas cards for their parents. Brandon probably spent more time laughing than anything else. They are quite a group. Tutoring is more intimate and laid back. They do not have drills and I allow them to express how they feel and goof off as long as they aren't too silly. By that time of day, 4:00pm, we had all had a long day. There was no way Brandon was not amused by their sense of humor. Impossible.
|This was how Carrot, Sampson, Bobby, Bryan and Joyce described Brandon in a later tutoring session.|
In School: Christmas Eve & Christmas
So, I had my first graders on Christmas make Christmas cards. I entered class wearing my Santa antlers proudly and wished everyone a Merry Christmas. My second graders stared at Brandon a lot and wanted to know who he was. After they saw the colored paper and paper Christmas shapes that Brandon helped me cut out on Christmas Eve, they were motivated to start gluing their Christmas cards together. They read:
"Dear Mom and Dad,
|Brandon assisting with glue on his first day|
|2nd grade making Christmas cards|
|One of my second grade classes making Christmas cards|
I have to say, it was enjoyable. It was enjoyable because I knew my students were engaged in making their Christmas cards. Even with them yelling my name and crying over not finding the right shade of green for their tree, how can you not break into smile when they start singing Jingle Bells or show you their card and then give you a big hug? Moments like that warm my heart.
That day I gave chocolate and cookies to the other teachers I work with, and gave Amy a shirt I had made for us. It's an inside joke, but I had us shirts made that read: We're English Teachers; Not Miracle Workers! I don't think parents realize just how hard it is to learn a new language and I'll leave it at that.
After teaching at one school on Christmas, I moved on to the next school and brought Brandon with me. He was in awe of their appearance. Their design is contrasting to schools in America. In school, you feel very outdoors. He was also taken back by how cold it was. I cannot stress enough how hard it is to warm up in the winter. My students learn while wearing layers and layers of clothing and their jackets. Their legs are stuffed in leg warmers. The same goes for me. There were times Brandon had to walk out of class to regain feeling in his hands and feet.
|You Shao 2|
|Brandon helping kids feed fish|
My next class was from 3:20-5:00pm and not only would they be making Christmas cards, but they (and Brandon) would be watching my homemade Christmas video. Brandon would also be introduced to my partner in crime: Wasabi (my little green frog). Brandon was in for a surprise because he had no idea what my video was all about. The feeling that he could share that moment with me brings me to life. I can try to explain what it was like to see their faces light up to Christmas traditions they had NEVER SEEN BEFORE, but I feel you had to be there to really honor the moment. We are so used to seeing houses lit up, reindeer, Santa with his reindeer, decorated stockings stuffed with candy, gingerbread houses, turkey, decked out Christmas trees, toddlers on Christmas morning....well they aren't and no holiday they celebrate is anything like it.
|My lil beggars: Batman and Snow White|
|Assisting Transformer with glue.|
Christmas Eve/ Christmas Dinner
|JESIE Christmas feast|
Christmas would be the first Chinese dinner where we would go out and I would do all of the ordering. Luckily I had gained a good amount of knowledge on Chinese food through much experimentation and trial and error; and it helped that I picked up a few Chinese words so I could actually order. If there were communication issues, I had to get us out of it. I did not have a translator. I wanted us to have a nice dinner, so I was feeling the pressure!
The first restaurant we walked into was scary. It looked elegant and traditional through the glass windows, but then we were greeted with a line of hanging animal flesh upon entering which hung off a line. I barely even noticed the two Chinese girls in their red Chinese dresses offering us a seat. I want to say they were attractive girls, but the meat is fogging my memory of them. I DO remember asking for a menu, caidan, and the woman looked confused which then confused me which surely confused Brandon. This is a typical moment in China, for anyone. Instead of telling me the menu was on the wall (there were two walls of pictures), she went into some twitch fit and pointed to some thought as if I was a mind reader. We walked forward and I saw walls of pictures. I thought, "why wouldn't you just walk us over here?" It turned out, the first restaurant I brought us to was known for their fresh slaughter. You saw birds chirping in cages; hanging meat; living creatures slightly hidden under tables (chickens, turtles), etc. We left, frightened. Good job, Alexa.
The food I ordered for us:
Soup: Having soup with our meal was important to me, so I chose a thirst quenching, brothy fish soup. I took a real chance with it because I didn't know what kind of fish it was. It looked like cod. I recognized tofu soup, but tofu was already in our main course. The soup was very good, BUT hard to eat. The fish had bones in it. I hate that. I'm tired of eating around bones!
Indeed, it was a memorable Christmas dinner. I thought of the movie A Christmas Story, when the turkey is ruined so the family goes to the only place open: a Chinese restaurant. That's kind of what it felt like. I didn't ruin the turkey, but I ordered cold duck. In all seriousness, the food was excellent and we had a wonderful Chinese meal together. Cheers!