From Thanksgiving to the current date, it’s been non-stop so not a lot of time to get in stories and pictures but let me remedy that today!
I hope this post give you an idea about what holidays (Thanksgiving and Christmas) entail for me here in China. So many newcomers from America never bother with these celebrations. They mope about the lack of holiday spirit, call or Skype home often and lament to friends and family, “There is no Thanksgiving or Christmas in China. I feel so lonely. I miss my special foods. I feel so depressed!”
Well, not this foreigner in China! Read on and you’ll see just how great it is to be overseas’ during this time of year.
Despite the late date, I will enclose pictures from Thanksgiving as my lessons were so much fun. After there history of Thanksgiving Day was introduced, students learned how to set a beautiful table.
They also participated in my “thankful hands” activity, which was a craft idea that my elementary art teacher , Fred Hayes, used to do.
He posted a huge turkey in the hallway and students would cut out their hands, write what they were thankful for on all the fingers and place on the turkey. The hands, made from a multitude of colorful construction paper, filled in to make the turkey feathers and was left for everyone to read as they walked by to their classes.
In my class, before placing your thankful hand on the turkey, students must say out loud before the class what they wrote. It is wonderful practice for future teachers, training them to develop their “teacher voice” (say loudly!) which English Education majors are in so need of practicing.
So how do we decide who gets the big turkey when we finish posting our hands and taking photos of the bird with us in front of it? Via a drawing, of course! That is pretty much the highlight of the lesson, with the student winner jumping up and down in glee to be able to put this up in his or her dorm room.
A great memory for the lucky winner, to have all your classmates’ thankful hands to read and savor every day in your room.
It’s Christmas Around China
Just like in America, Christmas decorations start to appear right after our U.S. Thanksgiving.
Chinese are familiar with Christmas now because the secular, commercialism explosion of this holiday has been here for the past 10 years. Decorated trees, Santa Clauses, windows with snowflakes and “Merry Christmas!” stencils in English and Chinese, Christmas sales (building up to Chinese New Year in January) are everywhere. Christmas carols are played throughout grocery stores and malls. That includes Silent Night, in both Chinese and English, as well as Jingle Bells, We Wish you A Merry Christmas, American Christmas songs by famous artists (“All I want for Christmas is You”, for example) and Chinese pop songs that now sing about the Christmas holiday. (Surprise!)
Even elementary schools, colleges and high schools hold Christmas parties for all to enjoy. (Another “surprise!” for many overseas’ teachers who come to China.)
Of course, no one really has a clue what Christmas is about. Most just think it’s the Westerners’ New Years and a fun holiday.
We have one small alleyway in Luzhou that has lots of decorations. I visit there every year to load up on more lights, ornaments, wall decs, tinsel roping and all those cheapie, holiday items sold in the Dollar Store in America that are stamped, “Made in China.”
Christmas in My Classroom
As always, I do culture lessons for Christmas which include the religious story of this day (the true meaning for Christians), and then I cover the secular part the next week.
For the freshmen, this is all new, exciting, different and very educational.
For my seniors, graduating soon, we have a refresher course which includes different holiday activities they can do with their future students. Two years for them is a long time to remember all that Christmas entails, thus the 2-week review. Many of my former students told me how they were asked by their principal to have a Christmas party for students. In other words, it’s vital for them to keep all our lessons in mind so they can perhaps use some of the activities we did with their own students.
The Religious Lesson: Meaning of Christmas via Christmas Story Re-enactment
I make sure every one of my students knows the story of Jesus’s birth, which is the foundation of this special Christian event. Without this information, how ignorant they appear to others when they say, “Oh, I know about Christmas. It’s the Westerner’s New Year.”
We have a wonderful Christmas story script which I wrote and have used for years. There are 16 parts, including the star (non-speaking — just hold the star and smile). Homework is to read this outside of class and do the question page. In class, a power point shows the story as we read together and see the visuals on the big screen.
Then comes the fun part the second class period.
We have a drawing to see who gets what part. I love that part of the lesson, pulling names of students out of a basket, because many are chosen who are shy and would never have volunteered on their own to participate. With the name-draw, there are no objections or balks to take your place in the performance. Everyone is equal in a drawing so if your name is drawn, up you go! I never have anyone who refuses.
This year, I had Chinese English teachers in our department observe my class. I made sure to invite them to this particular lesson. Not only is it a great technique used in teaching methodology (role-play is our key here), but a must for cultural understanding of Christmas.
Thus this year, several of our college Chinese teachers in my department and all of my frehmen got a good dose of what this celebration truly means for Christians.
See if you can guess which parts of our story is shown in the photos below. (Different classes are represented. )
The Secular Christmas Lesson
The next week, we went over the non-religious symbols and the meanings of these for Christmastime. Christmas tree, Christmas stocking, snowman, Santa Claus, reindeer, poinsettia, bow . . . After the power point visuals and displaying my extra Christmas items, which I brought to class, it was time for Christmas Bingo!
This is my absolute favorite game.
I created a bingo game with 30 bingo cards many years ago and have used this in every class for years. Instead of numbers, the spaces have pictures of all the symbols (religious and non) which are in our Christmas culture unit. The students have such a blast playing this game.
If a pair has 4 in a row, both must stand up and shout “Merry Christmas!” This certainly keeps everyone on their toes because if there is no standing up and no “Merry Christmas!” shouted, you lose your place if someone else is faster than you are.
Candy is the prize, and the winners (always paired) come to the front to become the teachers themselves. They then take turns drawing and announcing the symbols to their classmates, including checking to make sure answers are correct. It’s a great way to review the words and work on pronunciation, plus introduce a new teaching activity to those who will be teachers in the future.
The best part is that I get to play, too! When students become the teachers and call out the symbols, it’s time for me to step aside and enjoy the game as well.
My Christmas Home
It took me 10 days to get all my decorations out and up as I have so many things but I finally finished a week ago.
I must say I overdid the lights this year.
Last year, I had no outside lights on the balcony or in my windows. This year, it’s an explosion of sparkles and colors. Hard to miss my floor from outside of the building. I’m the only one with lights up.
The only disappointing part is that my apartment faces the countryside area, not the school campus. The construction workers who are building the bridge behind my place at least have a great view of my place. Everyone else has to walk around to the back of the building and look up to see most of the windows.
I do have one window that does face the distant campus side gate where people walk through constantly. I made sure it had extra lights and, yes, you can see it from quite a ways away.
I also am in the church choir.
We are having 2 practices a week for our Christmas program. We practice 2 hours each session and since the campus moved to the outskirts of town, I taxi it the 30 minutes into the city center during rush-hour. My Tuesdays and Thursdays, 6 – 10 p.m., are pretty much booked solid getting to practice, singing with the other choir members under the direction of our choir leader, Ms. Zhao, and then finally getting back home. Our director is quite enthusiastic to get us up to her standards so we often aren’t dismissed until 9:30.
On Thursdays, we have a short 15-minute devotional led by one of the choir members. And we always open and close with a prayer at every practice, no matter how late we might be. This also includes the Lord’s Prayer which we say at the end of every practice.
One new addition to this year’s many vocal numbers we are doing is that we have props! Sunflowers for one peppy number and then fans for others.
Oh, dear! I am so bad at remembering motions of any kind while struggling to spit out the Chinese words which we have to memorize. I have enough trouble recalling what I’m supposed to sing next. Now I have to remember when we open fans, close fans, lift them up, wave them to the right, wave them to the left, hold them steady or fan them.
I was put on the back row with the men because I’m taller than the women. (I’m only 5’5″ but I am taller than some of the guys even). It’s rather funny because the men and I are always in the dark, moving at the wrong time or just guessing what we’re supposed to do next.
And wouldn’t you know it, I’m on the end and was also put in charge of passing out the fans at the appropriate moment. Pressure!!
But it really is so much fun. We have such a good time. Lots of joking going on amidst our back row but we take our role seriously. We watch out for one another and remind each other what’s coming up next in the motions. I am sure everything will come together in the end for our Christmas worship services. December 23rd, 7:30 – 9:30 pm, is for the Christian community and December 24th (Christmas Eve) is for the public.
We give two performances because the church is too small to accommodate everyone just for one worship. The crowds are huge!!
Sharing Christmas with the Campus
Christmas Activity Night finished last night, which was an open invite to the campus to come and participate in Christmas activities. This was the first time I’ve ever tried this sort of thing and I was quite nervous about it coming off well.
I put this together with the help of the English Association, our English Club of 250. We had 5 rooms with different activities for students to do. It was open for the entire school, plus teachers and their kids or others who want to attend.
We had Santa Claus picture room with props, tree decorating room, say “Merry Christmas” and get candy room, make decorations (crafts) room and gift-wrapping room.
The volunteers and I worked very hard to make sure everything went smoothly. We planned for 3 weeks and spent the entire Saturday getting the rooms decorated and in proper order for students. And now that we have Taobao, the Chinese online Amazon, you can order anything and everything for Christmas on the Internet. Cheap prices and sometimes no shipping. Lights, trees, stuffed animals, Santa and elf suits, Santa hats, banners . . . . Lucky us! We had it all!
Was it successful? You bet! Just look at the photos below. It was really a wonderful evening and gave everyone a taste of the festive spirit of Christmas.
Open Houses for the Freshmen
I have just completed all my open houses with the freshmen students last week before they begin their final tests. All four classes, between 40 -50 students, were divided into two groups and invited to my home in the evenings.
Preparations were made ready every night before students arrived. Candy baskets were overflowing. My family photo albums and high school year books were ready to be flipped through. All Christmas lights turned on and sparkling. Christmas music filled the room. Santa and reindeer antler hats waited to be donned. Lots of little things displayed to enjoy and the toy table ready to go with animated stuffed animals, barrel of monkeys, Simon (hand-held musical game) and the miniature stackable chair game.
What a great time we had!
Friday’s Teacher and Faculty Open House
This Friday will have leaders, teachers and others from the campus coming to my home. Family and children are always welcome, of course. From 2 – 6 p.m., Zuri (Peace Corp volunteer) and I will await our guests.
For this group, the specialty items are Christmas cut-out sugar cookies (Domino brand sugar cookie recipe, the absolute best!) and chocolate truffle cookies (made by yours truly with her hoarded butter from Chengdu), hot drinks, tangerines (in season now and sold on every corner of the town) and the usual candy baskets.
I have just finished my holiday baking yesterday of sugar cookies. It took 4 hours in my tiny oven and I have a total count of 168 edible stars, reindeer, Santa Clauses, scotty dogs, lions, camels, bells, Christmas trees, snowmen and mini-gingerbread girls and boys. I only do this once a year and I enjoyed listening to Christmas music while baking away.
This year, I only over-browned 2 batches so I was quite pleased with the turn-out of 168. One year, I only made it to 120. Too many distractions and a new oven made for a lot of burned cookies.
As you can see, this is a busy time of year for me. Testing for students begins this week and next.
Grading and scoring is next for me, along with our closure classes with the students. Everyone gathers for our last time together to receive grades, a Christmas photo of me and pick through all the beautiful Christmas pencils with so many devoted Methodist UMW groups and others have collected and mailed to me.
This will take place the week after Christmas to close off our school year by January 1st.
I will do my best to post pictures of my church Christmas after that. As I am not sure when I will post next, here is wishing you a wonderful Christmas, a season full of joy and a very Happy New Year! Ping An (Peace) to all!