I teach at Luzhou (loo-joe) Vocational and Technical College in the city of Luzhou, which is located along the Yangtze river in Sichuan province. A majority of my college’s 10,000 students will graduate as teachers at the pre-school, elementary and junior high levels. (High school teachers are required to receive a 4-year BA degree, which my school does not offer.)
My courses are for English Education majors, those who will be teaching English in Chinese school systems.
At present, it is mandatory for all students to have daily English classes at the junior high and high school level. Because English is considered a world language used for business, international conferences, computer programming plus science and medical fields, the Chinese educational bureau is hoping to give China’s students a boost up in the world by engaging them in early English study. Even pre-schools and some public elementary schools are adding English to their curriculum as well, thus the need for well-trained English language teachers.
Aside from the language focus, for my freshmen classes, I include American culture units. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day, Easter and Mother’s Day are a few. But Christmas is the big one, due to all the holiday hoopla that surrounds my students at this time of year. Despite all the Christmas paraphernalia that engulfs them outside of campus, a majority of my students (and the public in general) have not a clue what this day is about or understand the meaning of the things that surround them.
Why is there a star or angel at the top of a fir tree?
Why is it a custom to give presents at Christmas?
Who is Father Christmas? Why is he dressed that way? Why do people wear reindeer antlers?
These are questions my students will face as future teachers. How ignorant they will appear if I fail them as their college teacher to explain every point necessary for them to answer accurately, in detail and with confidence.
My Christmas units, therefore, include both the religious story of Christmas and the customs I have as a small-town American mid-Westerner. By the time we are finished, I can guarantee all of my 240 freshmen know the dual nature of this holiday for their teaching purposes: What this day is about for world Christians and Chinese Christians and what the traditions and customs are that follow along with it. (Using old Christmas cards for symbol recognition, and later playing my own creation, a review “Merry Christmas!” bingo game, enhances a full remembrance of the unit. You can see this below.)
During Christmas Activity Night, a campus-wide event the English Association Club and I organize, they have their pictures taken with Santa Claus, decorate trees, and make snowflakes and Christmas tree ornaments.
Open Houses in my Home
But the highlight of it all is an evening invitation to my overly decorated Christmas home, which is the ultimate show-stopper to my holiday unit. My ninth-floor apartment in the single teachers’ housing facility on campus is easy to find. Just follow my window and balcony Christmas lights, which are hard to miss.
It takes me an entire week of blocked-off evening Open Houses to see everyone through my doors but it is well worth it.
Once inside my home, it’s quite a spectacular sight. Students arrive in designated groups where they gaze in awe at all my Christmas decorations, enjoy baskets overflowing with candy, play with electronic toys, look over my family photo albums and take hundreds of pictures with their cell phones. I also include a special Christmas gathering for my department’s teachers, the college administrators, and their family members. For their visit, my homemade cut-out Christmas sugar cookies are always served and greatly appreciated.
No Christmas in China, you say? Not on my watch!
(To Be Continued: Part 3)