When we moved our little family to China last fall, one of the last things I was expecting to see, come December, were Christmas trees. We had no idea what Christmas at China would be like.
Yet, there I was, homesick and lamenting my missed traditions, when evergreens laced with tinsel, twinkle eyed images of Jolly old St. Nick and strings of lights started popping up everywhere. Yes, Christmas in China.
It seemed a bit odd that a holiday to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ was being celebrated in a country so predominately non-Christian. I asked myself, if not the birth of the Savior, just what are they celebrating?
A little research revealed the answer. If you look closely at your decorations, you’ll probably find the words “made in China” inscribed on the underside. Nearly 75% of the stuff is manufactured there.
While factories were churning out all of those trees, wreaths, lights, tinsel and the likes, manufacturers were thinking about what a sweet deal retailers in America were getting out of the holiday.
All of those decorations and gifts people felt compelled to buy equaled big bucks on their end. Turns out, it was these manufacturers who began to push the Christmas holiday on Chinese people about two decades ago as a way to boost profits.
It started out with the younger generation putting up some decorations and getting together with friends for a night out at a restaurant on December 25th. Now, Christmas is well known by almost all city dwellers in China and marked as a holiday by many.
I don’t want to paint the wrong picture. It isn’t families gathering around Christmas trees to unwrap presents on Christmas morning.
Instead, think of it as Valentine’s Day with Santa instead of Cupid.
School children exchange cards, friends exchange small gifts, and some gather for a nice meal to mark the occasion. It made a little bit of sense when I thought of it that way. Still, I found it hard to comprehend a Christmas with no Christ.
Either way, once I got over missing my traditions from home, I started to really enjoy a different sort of Holiday Season. Since, Christmas existed, but only as a small holiday, we were able to celebrate it in the quiet moments of being together with our little family of five without all of the noise and bustle that sometimes overshadows the true reason for the season.
While my friends at home were sending me frazzled e-mails about cooking, cleaning, and shopping frenzies preparatory for the many parties and celebrations, my kids and I were calmly enjoying the blinking lights on our faux tree while listening to Christmas carols, re-enacting the nativity, or casually playing Uno in the early darkness of winter.
And, we did attend one nice Christmas Party at the very beginning of December to get us into the holiday spirit. It was a fancy holiday dinner at a 5-star hotel hosted by The American Chamber of Commerce.
We arrived to find the hotel lobby decked out for Christmas, so we stood our kids up in front of the huge Christmas tree surrounded by red poinsettias and snapped off some photos for my mom’s Christmas cards.
Right after that, my husband, Brian, was ushered away from me so that he could prepare for his assigned role as Santa later that evening.
I was left to my own devices looking after his 50-pound camera bag, our cranky one-year-old, energetic five-year-old, curious four-year-old and an armload of coats.
After meandering around a bit, we stood in line at the coat check and then found the dining room, strangely decorated in black and orange.
There were over 500 guests and it seemed that most of them were already seated.
As I waited to be assigned a table, I patiently kept the kids entertained with lights flashing images of snowflakes on the ceiling for a very long 30-minutes until someone finally led us to our table.
Grateful for a “home base,” I unloaded the heavy camera gear and settled the kids while they happily busied themselves with the 10 or so utensils (including chopsticks) provided for the meal.
Just when we were beginning to feel relaxed a lady walked up and said, “You can’t sit here. This table is reserved for Mr. and Mrs. Important-so-and-so. You have to leave.”
Stunned, I gathered up my three kids and the camera gear and moved to the back of the room to wait some more while they figured it out.
As I waited, I was thinking, “Why are you picking on the lady with the three kids? Why are you picking on Santa’s wife?” Shortly after that, the matter was resolved and we were shown to a table we where we were allowed to stay.
A choir came on stage to sing some Christmas songs and during the last song, I guess Santa was suppose to make his appearance because one of the organizers came frantically running to me, saying, “Where is Santa?”
Well, I didn’t quite know since I hadn’t seen him since he was whisked away from me at the front door more than an hour before.
Things got a little tense, but Santa was finally contacted via cell phone and made a late but unforgettable entrance.
I had been a little bit confused about what to say to my kids about Santa because I really couldn’t see how they could sit on their own father’s lap without knowing it was him. I told myself that maybe it would be a really, really good costume.
But the moment I saw him, I knew the gig was up.
Besides the beard being a flimsy disguise, he didn’t have so much as one little pillow stuffed in the suit, making him the skinniest Santa I have ever seen.
Even baby Isaac knew it was his dad. Sophie took one look at him and quickly appointed herself as his helper, running around the room passing out candy with him. The only problem was that she kept yelling, “Daddy, daddy, hey daddy!”
I don’t think the kids really associated the fact that their dad dressed up as Santa with anything other than just thinking he was silly.
When they brought out the buffet style dinner, I was greatly relieved by the fact that a couple seated at our table, who, by the way raised eleven children, generously offered to watch after Isaac while I dished up plates for Sophie and Ian.
I decided to wait until Brian changed out of his costume to get my own food, which turned out to be a good and a bad thing. The buffet was gorgeous. There must have been at least 60 different elegant dishes to try. I have a hard time restraining myself at events like this, because I want a taste of everything. The good news is that it was probably the first buffet of my life where I didn’t over eat. That is also the bad news since Brian lingered around in that Santa suit until just minutes before they closed the buffet altogether.
I wondered why he waited so long to change into his regular clothes, until later when I heard him advising a single guy on the “chick magnet” effects of the Santa suit. A few days later, we would get an e-mail with a photo attachment of Santa surrounded by four beautiful Chinese dancers.
After dinner, we were treated to a show of graceful dancers, daring Kung Fu artists, talented opera singers, a magnificent magician and other performers. “How long had it been since I had been to a really nice dinner and a show?” I wondered
I had that thought as I viewed glimpses from the hallway where all three kids and I were going up and down the escalators 100 times. But, I’m pretty sure I’ll always be glad I chose to ride the escalators that night.
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