This Christmas, I heard all 3 greetings regularly as I live in a Chinese-speaking country with Mexican roommates and two fellow Americans.
Yes, I realize that it is now 2017 and I am posting about Christmas. BUT, as it turns out, the season is just as busy as it is back home in the States and the crunch between Christmas and New Year’s didn’t leave me with much time to blog.
So, let me fill you in on a few highlights:
The local church met Thursday night before Christmas and gave all the carolers Santa hats to wear and electronic candles to carry. We proceeded to walk through all the nooks and crannies of Kinmen neighborhoods, singing a carol and shouting “Shèngdàn jié kuàilè” to whomever came outside to listen.
Apparently, it is customary to give treats to people that come to your house. We received a piece of fruit or candy for every door we went to and I finished the night confused as to whether we had just celebrated Christmas or Halloween. At one point, my roommate had eaten two oranges and had three more in her pocket.
I guessed caroling would last about two hours tops, but as we approached three hours, my roommates and I began looking for escape routes. We finally figured out the way back home and I applaud the Christmas spirit in everyone else that stayed ‘til the end. It really was a fun experience and I loved every minute that I lasted.
School Christmas Performance
As the only foreigner at my school, I got drafted for the major roles in our Christmas event. Yep: Mother Mary and Santa Claus.
That alone should tell you this would be an event unlike any other. This suspicion was only confirmed when I was instructed to work on props. When I asked what I should use for Santa’s list, I was supplied with a roll of toilet paper. In this circumstance, it’s best to just not ask questions, so instead I got to work with a marker, making a pretend list on each little square sheet.
I’ve got both the Christmas Story and Ol’ Saint Nick’s tale down, so I wasn’t too worried about that. What I WAS concerned about was the fact that the agenda kept changing and I was finding out some of my duties literally minutes before the production started. My co-teacher assured me he would just give me cues. That basically meant he was going to say something in the mic, give me a nod and I would have to come up with an impromptu reaction that somewhat fell into line with the theme for that moment. No sweat.
We performed the Nativity play with the students that we had drafted the day before who had only had two dry runs before the actual production. A fourth-grade girl was chosen to replace me as Mother Mary and I was moved to the role of Gabriel. It was a hit!
Afterwards, a friend helped me change into a red felt jacket with pants to match, a Santa hat and a big white beard. I stuffed the jacket with my own winter coat and officially looked like the world’s favorite jolly old man. While I’ve never imagined myself in this role, I did have fun telling the kids I had no idea who Teacher Elyse was and asking why they kept calling me that.
Dressed up as Santa, I performed the songs and dances that my co-teacher and I had been teaching each grade in their classes. Along with “We Wish You A Merry Christmas”, we also did the Just Dance version of “What Makes You Beautiful” by One Direction and I tried to keep my belly in place while doing all the moves in front of the entire school and their parents. I was also told I would lead the “Cup Song” by Anna Kendrick and even though we had practiced singing the song twice through, we were cut off mid-stanza and told the song was over because it was taking too long. I’m learning to just roll with the punches…
The overall production lasted over two hours and then the parents shadowed the kids in their classes. I was told my first-grade class would be cancelled because the performance would run over class time, but when I went to the classroom to see if they needed anything I was put on the spot to teach a class in front of the parents! Great. At least I know the alphabet by heart – it makes a great last-minute lesson plan. (Thanks, Mom!)
Apparently, the Kinmen newspaper was as surprised to see me in a Santa costume as I was and I appeared in the Kinmen Daily Times dressed as Santa and surrounded by my kids.
On Christmas Eve, the roomies and I went to one of our favorite restaurants that was all decked out with Christmas decorations. Three of us went to the Christmas Eve service which was a lineup of songs, dances, a sermon, and gifts. Afterwards, we all met up again at the movie theater to see La La Land. If you like musicals, it’s worth watching.
I tried to wake up late, but hearing implosions from a construction site that must have been on my block didn’t allow for too much snoozing. Another reminder that this isn’t America on Christmas morning! Business goes on as usual.
My roommate cooked an awesome brunch of eggs, potatoes and coffee cake served alongside 60 kiwis that a man we affectionately call “grandpa” gave to two of my roommates who work with him at their school. That’s right: sixty kiwis for two girls.
Our gift exchange taught us of another cultural difference when the gals from Mexico started clapping after the first gift was opened. The three of us Americans looked at them completely confused and then they exchanged the same confused look with each other and we all started laughing. Finally, they explained that in Mexico, you clap after someone opens a gift. I gladly took on this tradition and added an enthusiastic clap to whatever took place after that.
One of us got a Chinese dictionary and we all read it together and laughed for a good half hour at some of the translations into English. Sounds nerdy, but it was a good time.
The rest of the afternoon we just hung out, napped, ran to the store to get junk food, and played cards. Then, that night some of us met up with other foreigners on the island for a reading of the Christmas story, another gift exchange, and more sweets.
It was not home, but Christmas was special. It was special because it was different for all of us and, despite missing family, we became that to each other. I’m blessed to have awesome roommates, friends, and coworkers here! I hope yours was special too…. Leave me a comment and tell me about it, ok?