Christmas Along the Yangtze

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.

Setting Up

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.

5 boxes of Christmas things, evenly distributed among 3 rooms.

5 boxes of Christmas things, evenly distributed among 3 rooms.

DSCN3346

The pet Christmas tree is at the entrance and is a favorite for all animal lovers.

The pet Christmas tree is at the entrance and is a favorite for all animal lovers.

DSCN3368

DSCN3354

My sitting room

My sitting room

DSCN3351

The religious corner

The religious corner

My Christmas Tree

My Christmas Tree

So many toys to play with!

So many toys to play with!

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.

In the classroom, Gabriel tells Mary she will have a baby

Gabriel tells Mary she will have a baby

Joseph is encouraged by the angel to marry Mary, even though the child is not his.

Joseph is encouraged by the angel to marry Mary, even though the child is not his.

Pregnant Mary and Joseph come to the inn door in Bethlehem.

Pregnant Mary and Joseph come to the inn door in Bethlehem.

Joseph: "Please,sir, do you have any room?" Innkeeper 1: "No room here.  Try down the street."

Joseph: “Please,sir, do you have any room?”
Innkeeper 1: “No room here. Try down the street.”

Shepherds and wisemen await their entry into the story.

Shepherds and wisemen await their entry into the story.

Shepherd 1:  "Do you hear something?  It sounds like singing." Shepherd 2:  "It's the sheep!  Go back to sleep."

Shepherd 1: “Do you hear something? It sounds like singing.”
Shepherd 2: “It’s the sheep! Go back to sleep.”

Angels: "Glory to God in the highest.  Peace on earth and good will toward men.  Follow the star to see the baby!"

Angels: “Glory to God in the highest. Peace on earth and good will toward men. Follow the star to see the baby!”

There's the star!  Let's go.

There’s the star! Let’s go.

Wiseman 1 brings his gift to the child.

Wiseman 1 brings his gift to the child.

Wiseman 3 and his gift.

Wiseman 3 and his gift.

Class photo of everyone, including characters, were taken for our final curtain call.

Class photo of everyone, including characters, were taken for our final curtain call.

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.

Welcome for photo ops!

Welcome for photo ops!

DSCN3389

Nothing like playing with the decorations.

Nothing like playing with the decorations.

In my home, it was pictures galore for my first freshmen class of visitors.

In my home, it was pictures galore for my first freshmen class of visitors.

Squeeze together!

Squeeze together!

Everyone's cellphones with photography ability were passed around constantly.

Everyone’s cellphones with photography ability were passed around constantly.

We even managed a timed shot using my camera to fit everyone in.

We even managed a timed shot using my camera to fit everyone in.

Another group shot for yet another gathering.

Another group shot for yet another gathering.

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.

Our teacher's and faculty staff in my home.

Our teacher’s and faculty staff in my home.

We had one grandma visit with grand-daughter.

We had one grandma visit with grand-daughter.

Vice-dean Lisa Zhang, her son (Santa beard) and the foreign teachers

Vice-dean Lisa Zhang, her son (Santa beard) and the foreign teachers

Teacher Huang, who arrived too late for the group picture, had his own special picture with us all.

Teacher Huang, who arrived too late for the group picture, had his own special picture with us all.

Teacher Sun and me, showing off my trendy straw hat which was a Christmas gift.

Teacher Sun and me, showing off my trendy straw hat which was a Christmas gift.

Assistant foreign affair's director, Bruce Lu, and his wife, just recently married.

Assistant foreign affair’s director, Bruce Lu, and his wife, just recently married.

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.

Welcome, kids, to Connie's Christmas house!

Welcome, kids, to Connie’s Christmas house!

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.

Our faculty and leader gift photo

Our faculty and leader gift photo

For Angela's students

For Angela’s students

For Geoff's students and our shared third year  (graduating) seniors

For Geoff’s students

For the seniors:  Angel Angela, shepherd Geoff and Wiseman Connie

For the seniors: Angel Angela, shepherd Geoff and Wiseman Connie

A back-up, which was almost selected.

A back-up, which was almost selected.

Another possibility that we nixed

Another possibility that we nixed

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!

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.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s