Thanksgiving Day in China

 

Thanksgiving Day Begins with A Bang

 

            Darkness is nothing new along the Yangtze river at 7 a.m. It makes one want to stay snuggled under the warm comforter, especially as no heat brings room temperatures to around 50 degrees.  But this morning, Little Flower and I were certainly up and out in a hurry as a long string of firecrackers went off directly underneath my bedroom window, right alongside my 1st floor neighbors’ chicken and duck coops. 

            Happy Thanksgiving!

            The fire crackers had to do with the anniversary of someone’s death. This is a common way to remember loved ones in China by lighting candles at the temple and letting off firecrackers in their memory.  I just wish they’d have chosen another spot to do it at.

            My elderly neighbors were immediately out the door, checking on their frightened fowl.  The poor things were clucking and quacking in panic, wondering what in the world had happened.  Their caretakers soothed their agitation with soft coos. 

            To be honest, I didn’t feel all that sorry for their disruption.  My neighbors aren’t supposed to have these two-legged critters at all.  It’s forbidden by the school authorities to raise farm animals on school property, plus they can really stink up the place at times.  4 years ago when I was here, they raised only 2 chickens.  But now, after my return to Luzhou, they’ve increased their business to over 40 birds wandering about in their enclosed area.  A lot of the time, they get out, which is not too pleasant for anyone as they do use the toilet all over the place.

            Many  have complained.  They’ve told the school officials to do something about it but nothing has been done so far. 
            I doubt anything will.  In the meantime, we all just put up with the mess and the smell, hoping eventually some action will be taken.

 

A Thanksgiving Day Story from China 

      

            My second Thanksgiving Day at this school, I had very few students and was able to have a Thanksgiving Day dinner both in my home and also in the classroom.  At my home, we had everything except turkey, which is just not readily found in China.  (Chicken had to suffice.)  In the classroom, we created table settings, put up decorations and then brought our lunches from the cafeteria to eat together. 

            Now, however, I have 350 students with no access to classrooms due to courses always going on.  Instead, we just do the in-class lesson time with the highlight being how to create a gorgeous holiday table and then, later on, an evening Thanksgiving Day movie.

            My most memorable Thanksgiving in Luzhou has to be the year of our Thanksgiving Day dinner in the classroom, which was almost ruined by the dog. 

            Here’s the story in full.  Enjoy, everyone!

A Wishbone Tradition Gone To The Dog 

             

            When I was a child, I looked forward to my family’s Thanksgiving Day dinners, not so much for the food but more for the tradition of the wishbone.  Sitting at the table, I would anxiously watch as Dad carved the turkey.  Each slice of the knife would bring him closer to revealing what I had waited for all year.  He would eventually pull forth the wishbone from the bird and announce, “So, who wants a wish?”  

            I remember the excitement of grabbing one end of the wishbone as another family member took the other.

             “One, two, three, pull!” we’d shout.  A quick tug and “snap!”, the wish was granted to the one with the longest piece. 

I had longed to re-create this Thanksgiving Day tradition in my college English language classroom  in Luzhou, China.  Yet while the city’s markets were full of chickens, ducks, pigeons and doves, when it came to bigger birds, you could forget it.  Like a majority of Chinese, Luzhou’s Yangtze river folk were not into turkeys.  Thus I had always contented myself in teaching the history of Thanksgiving Day and leaving the rest up to Norman Rockwell, whose Thanksgiving Day magazine prints I posted on the blackboard.

But a few years ago, on a visit back to the States for the Chinese New Year holidays, I had a brainstorm.   Why not take a turkey wishbone back to China and give my students a “real” Thanksgiving Day?  The students and I could decorate the classroom.  We could set up tables and centerpieces.  We could bring our lunches from the student cafeteria and eat together as a class.  And for the grand finale to the meal, we could hold a drawing to see who would participate in the wishbone tradition.

The more I thought about it, the more enthusiastic I became.  I enlisted the help of my parents and together, we prepared a large turkey which came with it a magnificently large wishbone.         After cleaning and drying my wishbone prize, I carefully wrapped it in tissue paper and off the two of us went to China.

For nine months, I guarded that bone.  Each time I passed the drawer it was nestled in, I took a peek inside to make sure it was safe.

             No mold.

             No breaks. 

            No mouse nibbles.  

            Come November, I was determined my wishbone tradition would make Thanksgiving Day come alive for my Chinese college crowd.     

            When the fourth Thursday in November finally came, everyone was anticipating our noontime celebration.   The excited students gathered in the classroom and awaited my early arrival for decorating.  In my campus apartment, I was busy packing the holiday items I had painstakingly collected just for this occasion.  Into the box they went:   Thanksgiving Day banners, turkey door hangings, Pilgrim posters, tablecloths, and autumn centerpieces.  On the very top, in a plastic sandwich bag, was the precious turkey wishbone which I had so diligently guarded for nine months.

            After setting the box by the door, I went about getting ready to leave. 

            Teachers develop an uncanny ability for detecting suspicious sounds, so when the rustling began, I knew something was up.           

            I quickly made my way to the box.  There stood Little Flower, my 5-year-old Chihuahua.  A ripped baggie was at her feet and clamped between her teeth was the turkey wishbone.

           “Little Flower,” I warned, “you give me that.”

            My dog stood her ground. 

            “Drop it!”

            Her jaws tightened.

            Slowly, I reached out and gripped the exposed end of the bone. 

            I gave a careful tug. 

            Little Flower tugged back. 

            I tugged again. 

            Little Flower did the same.

            No matter how gently I pulled, Little Flower pulled harder until . . . . SNAP!   The wishbone broke in two.  And, wouldn’t you know it, I had the shorter end. 

             I was certain Thanksgiving Day was ruined.  I had put so much faith into the wishbone tradition that having Thanksgiving Day without it seemed unlikely.  But the fact is that the students had far too much fun decorating, eating together and enjoying the festive atmosphere to remember my tradition.   And as I became a part of their jovial community, I realized there had never been any need for a turkey wishbone to bring Thanksgiving to my Chinese classroom.  Holidays are not made by the things we prepare but by the people we’re with.     

            As Thanksgiving Day approaches once again, I have been planning more Thanksgiving Day activities for a new group of students.   After last time’s success, though, I’ve learned not to place too much stock in the wishbone tradition.  After all, although Little Flower got the longer end of the bone, I got the wish.

 

From Luzhou, wishing you and your family "Ping An" (peace).  Have a blesssed Thanksgiving Day!

              

 

 

About connieinchina

I have been in the Asia region for 18 years as an English language teacher. 13 of those have been spent with the Amity Foundation, a Chinese NGO that works in all areas of development for the Chinese people. Amity teachers are placed at small colleges throughout China as instructors of English language majors in the education field. In other words, my students will one day be English teachers themselves in their small villages or towns once they graduate. Currently, this is my second year in Guangxi Province at the 3-year college, Guangxi Normal University for Nationalities. The college is located in smalltown longzhou, 1 hour from the Vietnam border.
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