I’m not a scrooge or anything, but in many ways I enjoy missing out on the pressure of the holiday season back in America. But that doesn’t mean I miss out on Christmas. In fact, if anything, Christmas seems to be getting bigger and bigger around here. This holiday season we had 5 parties to go to, 3 on the same day!
People in China know how important Christmas is in the west, so they go all out to try to make us feel “at home” during Christmas time. In addition, it’s the end of the semester, so they also like the excuse to have a party to celebrate something.
Of course, as hard as they try, Christmas in China will never be the same as at home, (They decorate with pink balloons for starters) but it is unique and memorable in it’s own way.
So in case you are curious what it is like being in China on Christmas, here is a little run down of last friday, the day we had 3 parties.
It started off with my party. I had been planning a party for several weeks. My friend Color was coming back to visit and he wanted to see all his friends. So why not have a party right?! It started off a small affair, just one class of 30 students, and wasn’t going to be that big a deal.
But I’m really close with 2 classes, and a girl in the other class asked me if we could have a Christmas party this year like we had in class last year. “But class will be over before Christmas, so we can’t,” I said.
She looked down at the ground and said said quietly, “Can’t we have a party outside of class?” So of course I had to invite them as well. And then because Color would be there I invited a few other students (in other grades) who are friends with him or wanted to meet him. And then I invited the other foreign teachers, and then some Chinese teachers and before I knew it 75 people were coming.
I decided to try to combat the craziness of a student-party with extreme organization. We had several decorators, waiters, bartenders and welcomers. The decorators arrived 2 hours early to “transform” the classroom as best we could.
I also taught them to make snowflakes and they went to furious work making some really nice ones. After a little while I noticed Alan just standing around. “Why don’t you make some snowflakes,’ I suggested.
“No, that’s woman’s’ work,” he said. Oh no he didn’t! His punishment make 100 snowflakes (later pardoned to one). Here it is. Afterwards he said making snowflakes, “was man’s work.”
“It’s everyone’s work,” I said.
The other students arrived promptly at 3. We had a on of food and usually students attack the food like wild animals who haven’t eaten in weeks. But I wanted this to be a “sophisticated” cocktail style party, so I had the waiters protect the food from the hungry hordes.
Two students, Lindy and Silmon, were the official greeters opening the door for every guest. That was a spontaneous job created out of necessity because, unfortunately, there were other students having a final exam during the same time as our party down the hallway. So keeping the door closed in an attempt to be quiet, was an important job. Silmon mocked the “subservient Chinese man” pose bowing low several times every time someone walked in the door yelling “Welcome, welcome, welcome!” I told Lindy to kiss the hands of every woman who came in, but he ended up only kissing the guys.
Chinese parties usually have performances. But I said this was going to be a western style party and I put the kabash on any singing or dancing routines. So in the beginning the students stood around awkwardly, much like a middle school dance.We had a big room, but they squished themselves into the corner leaving the middle entirely free. They were unsure what to do, and seemed like they were waiting for something.
So I had to make an announcement, told them it was just a party to mingle at, and I introduced all off the special guests (Color, the foreign teachers, the senior students), and told the waiters to start serving the food (and I told the students not to attack the waiters.) We also had a small bar area, with two bartenders, and one girl decided to make paper money to give as tips. So then the bartenders decided to hold the drinks hostage, only serving when you had some fake paper money. Some people actually ponied up real cash, and they bartenders walked away 5 kuai richer (about .75 cents). I was very impressed with how well the waiters prepared (and served) the food, and how polite the students were as well.
I gave a student my camera, asking her to take a picture for me, and after that the camera disappeared. It came back to me an hour later with about 70 new pictures on it, which the students took. Here are a few:
I said before that on that day we had three parties to go to. So I had to make sure to end this party promptly at 4:45 so we could clean up and be at our next party by 5. It went off without a hitch, and the foreign teachers then met at the school restaurant for a Christmas meal sponsored by the International Office. We were handed a santa hat as we walked in the door and had to wear it the entire evening even though they were too small for most of our heads. (That’s the picture at the top of this post.)
They had a giant wine bottle and a tiered glasses set-up, and somehow Ryan got roped into opening the bottle. Then he invited the dean of the International Department to pour it with him. The plan was to cascade it down the glasses filling them all up, but somehow it was a little crooked and only half actually got filled before they gave up.
We had a delicious dinner (with steak even) but didn’t have much time before we had to whisk ourselves off to the next party, this time hosted by the School of Foreign Languages (which is the department for English majors.)
This was a full blown Chinese style party with karaoke, games, and even a prepared program. Some of these teachers had been rehearsing all week. We didn’t prepare anything, and prefered to hide in the back, but they were not happy with that. We had to go onto the stage 2 times, once to play a game (we lost) and once to sing Edelweiss with the other teachers.
We stayed for about 2 hours, but left a little early. At that point I was pretty exhausted (and partied out ) and watching Chinese people sing Karaoke songs lost it’s fun.
So as you can see, Christmas in China is not exactly the same as Christmas in America. There is no Bing Crosby or tastefully decorated Christmas trees, but it is an experience I will remember for a long time. And when we, someday, return to America I can only imagine I will miss my crazy Chinese Christmas’.
No matter where you are, or what traditions you follow I hope you all have a great Christmas!