Life in China: Christmas in Henan

30 Dec

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It’s a little late to be saying this, but Merry Christmas from the beautiful province of Henan, China!

 This is my very first Christmas to be traveling abroad, indeed my first to be away from family and friends. Even in college, I always came back home with my mom to stay at my Aunt and Uncle’s home in Illinois. We always went overboard on the shopping so the room was covered in packages, and we had wonderful traditions. Lighting the hope candle, visiting midnight services, baking cookies, and getting up early to visit family nearby. Christmas has always been one of my favorite holidays, and I was a little concerned about how it would turn out this year.  

Given that Christmas isn’t really a native holiday to China, I wasn’t actually sure that people would celebrate at all.  To my surprise, Christmas is actually a really awesome holiday here!  The students are all interested in foreign/western holidays, and they celebrate any day that involves present giving and merry-making (China does love to throw a good party).  In a truly precious tradition, the students tend to give each other (and many teachers) apples as presents on Christmas. The local stores provide adorable little boxes all decorated up in a fancy way with heart, gems, and cute little sayings. The students then add their apple and make up a cute little present. Since fruit is considered a dessert dish in China, it’s the same as giving away a box of chocolates to each other.   

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Many of the teachers got these little presents, my mom had almost two entire bookshelves full of them after her classes 🙂  I got a few apples, and then a bunch of other little presents from my kids.  Surprisingly, my boys were into the most.  One bought me a beautiful little lamp with his girlfriend’s help. Another gave me a pretty little comb from his trip to Taiwan, and I got an adapter for my new iPad from his friend. One boy bought his first ever Christmas gift and gave my mom and I darling matching wooden Lamborghini cars all painted up (he likes cars and wanted us to have something matching) ❤  I got some other cute odds and ends from the students like a pretty picture frame and some stuffed animals. My little kid students even gave me a dolphin figurine! 🙂 Plus, my mom and I gave each other gifts so I got an awesome little bag from the nearby store.  IMG_0057[1]

All in all, a pretty good haul I thought! 

 It helps that China has its own little traditions, like the apple-exchange. Another little tradition I love is the big tree down in our main square.  A huge old ugly wire tree is put up, and at first we thought it looked sadly scrawny. Then students started adding big decorated sheets of paper, and we learned that they were Christmas wishes and love messages.  I actually saw a note from one of my students on the tree. He and his girlfriend are working really hard right now trying to save up enough money to convince their parents that they should get married, and it’s been kind of a long year. So he asked that she always have a good life and that in the future they could have many smiles and happiness, because “you always look so beautiful when you smile and I want you to be that happy forever.” ❤ Sigh. . . young romance.  

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The rest of town gets into the spirit too.  The stores all sell Christmas trees and decorations here the same as back at home. The foreign teachers were given free Christmas trees by the University and we decorate our rooms and hall doors with lights and little festive signs.  The buildings and taxis are still playing good old Christmas music like Santa Baby and Silent Night, and my kids from my part-time job were singing Jingle Bells to me in Chinese.  I saw a nativity in the nearby city of Zhengzhou, and that kind of made Christmas feel like home.  The chef here at the foreign faculty housing made us an extra special Christmas dinner which we ate around a huge Christmas tree and some of the faculty put on a fun little show.  Sure, a lot of things are a little different – we had ice cream cake for dessert and a palm tree made out of shrimp. But good old ham was there, as was red wine and potato salad.  

I suppose my favorite memory this time was my celebration with some of my best students.  I have a group of four boys who worked extra, extra hard this semester on their work. I’ll probably post about them again later, but suffice to say, I got to be pretty good friends with them this semester.  I wanted to give them something special for Christmas, and students here in China love experiencing different cultures. So I arranged four Christmas stockings full of little treats and treasures, like we would get in my home. Nuts, chocolate, cards, gum, etc. It was a mini treasure trove.  I think they really enjoyed it, especially since I saw pictures on WeChat later 🙂  

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In the end, I of course missed my family, but Christmas came out pretty good.  I said Merry Christmas to family back home via Skype, and my mom was able to call her family (thank God for Skype).  It wasn’t exactly what I was used to, but I feel like I made some really great new traditions. I love enjoying it with the students, and I think maybe they are more excited about the holiday than Americans are these days. For them, it isn’t about the gifts or the rushing around; it’s truly about the emotions of love, joy, and friendship.  They take this one day and just wallow in how awesome their lives are and how much they care for each other. It’s serious, pretty awesome! 🙂

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