Fragrant evergreen, scented candles, sticks of cinnamon, spiced cider – these are the smells I associate with Christmas.
But in my apartment here in China, at least for the past 3 weeks, it’s the aroma of one thing and one thing only that consistently permeates my tiny 3 rooms: coffee.
Morning, noon and night, coffee is made and guzzled in shameful quantities to get me through the holiday that keeps me extremely busy, but also extremely happy. Here we are, Christmas Eve, and I am finally able to catch you up on everything.
Yes, it’s Christmas along the Yangtze in this foreigner’s home!
For five days, Christmas boxes stuffed with decorations were hauled down from the top of my wardrobe, opened, and unpacked for extravagant display. After 2 years of slumbering in deep, peaceful sleep, it was time to wake everyone up.
Stuffed animals, battery-operated toys, desktop trees, colored lights, tinsel roping, colorful Christmas stockings, miniature creche scenes, figurines, votives, wall hangings, Santa hats and reindeer ears – Welcome to Connie’s winter wonderland.
This was my time to make my home inviting for all and get ready for the open houses soon to follow.
In the Classroom: Prepping for Christmas Festivities
Along with in-home decorating, my classroom lessons had me pulling my suitcase of materials to and from the classroom numerous times over the last 2 weeks. We began with the Christmas story, going over a simple script of Jesus’ birth and then re-enacting this in the classroom with costumes and props.
The next week followed with a showcase of traditional items (tree, stocking, Santa Claus, candy cane) and a Christmas bingo game to nail home the newly learned vocab. Candy as prizes is always a must, giving students ample time to sample even more fun that is soon to come: Invitations to my Christmas open house.
A Week of Visitors
The first class of freshmen came two weeks ago, keeping me occupied from 7 – 9 p.m as wave after wave of groups arrived. Candy baskets were everywhere, strategically placed and heaped high with goodies. Keeping them replenished was a challenge, especially while being pulled this way and that for photo ops at the many different areas in my home. Every backdrop was different; every corner filled.
Word went flying around campus that Connie’s open houses had begun. Freshmen began pestering me in every class when their turn would come. My last one took place last Monday, followed on Friday by the faculty.
The departmental staff and English teachers were invited to my home on Dec. 19 for our foreigners’ open house. After the Friday departmental meeting finished, those who had time came to enjoy the decorations but they received a grander spread than the students.
The Chinese teachers and staff need extra energy to get through their busy schedules at this time of year. That includes hours of test grading. My infamous cut-out sugar cookies, chocolate truffles, fresh tangerines, soft drinks, coffee and tea gave all who attended a feeling of the true Christmas spirit, as shown by us 3 Americans.
Adding even more to the occasion were visits from their kids. We had about 15 children of all ages, toddlers to elementary school ages, who likewise participated in the festivities. Not a single toy or stuffed animal was left untouched or not played with, which is the way I like to have it.
A Crazy Saturday Morning of Pictures
Students of any age need something special for Christmas from their foreign teacher. This is one of the reasons I’ve placed on my wish lists holiday pencils, which many of my American friends and church members have graciously sent. Such pencils are difficult to find in China, at least in huge quantities, so such presents add great joy to the classroom one they are displayed for choosing.
But by far the most precious gift is a photograph.
When I was on my own, I’d have holiday photos taken of me and Little Flower which were laminated and copied for every student I had. Now, there are 3 foreign teachers at our college. Two years ago, I blogged about the photo session with me, John and Ashley in my home. John set up his state-of-the-art camera on a tripod and we maneuvered ourselves into numerous poses for pictures.
The biggest hassle was continually positioning the camera at just the right angle to center us. Took about 1 ½ hours before we managed to get in the shots we wanted.
None of that this year!
I enlisted the help of Guo Shiyu and her husband, Liang Yong, for this year’s pictures. The couple, in their 40s, owns a small photography shop across from the school’s front gate. They have cornered the market for official school pictures since they are the only ones around.
I have known this couple for 12 years, when I first came to Sichuan. I’d have my holiday photos and others taken in their tiny studio with one of their 4 backdrops. My dogs Little Flower and earthquake rescue Lao-lao (now in America) still hold a place of honor in their photo display at their shop.
This is the first time, however, that I made arrangements for them to visit my home for our foreigners’ Christmas photo session.
I could tell the two were a little put out when I asked. There are only two of them working. To leave the shop, they have to close their doors, perhaps losing business while their gone. Both of them felt they should come, bringing 2 different cameras. They are a close-knit pair and always work together for the school pictures so rarely do I see them on their own.
As we walked the 10 minutes to my home, I prepared them for the grand showing. “You will see so many things for Christmas,” I told them in Chinese. “It’s really beautiful and special.” I was so excited to have my first Chinese guests see my decorations that I think my enthusiasm was contagious. By the time we hiked up to the 3rd floor, my key in the lock, their faces were eagerly and anxiously awaiting what was within.
For an hour, Guo Shiyu and her husband, Liang Yong, snapped away while Geoff, Angela and I struck our poses for our student gift-giving photos. Over 100 were taken and four were eventually chosen to give to our students.
A Joyful Week of Gift Giving
700 picture copies were made, titled in English and Chinese, laminated and ready to present to our leaders, English department and students last week.
I must say, everyone was extremely excited and moved by our gifts. This also included Christmas pencils which so many of you in the States have sent to me as requested on my wish lists.
Being able to share the Christmas spirit with others in this way has really made the holiday worthwhile, at least for me.
It’s Christmas Eve Tonight!!
Tonight, it’s the Christmas Eve service in church where my religious cards, pencils and individual photo will be presented to our pastors and church members that I know. The service begins at 7:30 with a worship hour and then at 8:45, the performances begin. There will be dancing, singing, solos, musical instrumentalists, skits and a visit from Santa Claus before ending at around 11 p.m. I also will be singing my yearly solo, Away in a Manger, in English and Chinese.
After that, the curious public will disappear and leave us Christians to a quieter, prayerful hour: the count down to midnight to welcome in Christ’s birth.
From along the Yangtze, here’s hoping your Christmas will be just as full of joyfulness as mine.
Ping An, everyone! Blessings for your Christmas!