Well, Christmas has come and gone again.
It is in the early hours of December 26th in America, while it well into the day after here in the beloved Red Country. I just skyped my family and had show and tell of my Christmas gifts: a snow globe, a bear bank, a scarf, and a coin purse. I also bought myself a crock pot so that I could cook a delicious dinner. I had to justify spending the money by telling myself it was my Christmas gift.
I woke up this morning to a workman knocking on my door. He is a familiar face as my apartment like to implode at the most opportune moments. Yesterday while I was busily preparing to host my first Christmas dinner in my own place (!!!) I absentmindedly flushed a tampon. Well in Chi.na's plumbing that is a no-no and my toilet ceased to work. Also, while I was in the shower my shower decided to stop draining. It was then that I realized my shower is not caulked properly and the water flooded my entire bathroom/kitchen. This was 2 hours before 10 people were scheduled to arrive. So I did was all good hostesses do: put a sign on the door at read, "KEEP OUT. DRAIN EXPLOSION 2009 BU HAO". bu hao = not good. Luckily my guests were gracious and used the downstairs public toilet without too much grumbling.
My friends arrived and we had ourselves a feast. I made Italian chicken, roasted beef, fruit tarts, and creamed corn. My friends brought baguettes, bean salad, chips, cake, marinated green beans and mushrooms, and some rice dish that was really good. It was the closest thing to a homemade western meal any of us had enjoyed in awhile and it was great to be with good friends. We ate and talked and drank and ate some more until the midnight hour. Slowly they left to bike or taxi home. As the last guest left we stood at the bottom of my gate and he said, "well, first Christmas in Chi.na." I replied, "but we are still with family." It was a beautiful end to a wonderful holiday week.
Celebrating Christmas in Chi.na is strange. The environment does not match the calendar. There are no Christmas lights, no extensive Christmas decor, no lavish gift giving tradition, no busy shopping malls, no holiday traffic. The environment has to be created by the people. But somehow this makes the simple message of Christmas more profound. I go around explaining the significance of Christmas rather than watching Rudolph on TV. If I get a beautifully wrapped gift I am surprised, rather than feeling like Christmas automatically comes with gifts. It is a powerful thing to share the Christmas story with people who have never heard. Imagine meeting someone who has no idea about Christmas and being able to tell them all about your traditions, beliefs and the reasons for the holiday.
It is amazing to step back from your life and the way you have always done things and to explain it to another person who comes from a completely opposite life path. It makes the celebration and the purpose for it clearer. There are no obligations or expectations surrounding the holiday because when people from cultures all over the world come together the traditions mesh. Suddenly I find myself giving wrapped apples to people on Christmas Eve (a Chin.ese tradition to wish a person safety) and dancing on Christmas Eve like they do in Zimbabwe. I may not be at my aunt's house with the buzz of the football game on in the background, but I am sharing my friend's family recipes in my small living room, thankful to be by those who are dear to me, even on this side of the ocean.
Yesterday as I cleaned, I reflected on this journey. How something greater than me told me to come to Chin.a so I did. And now on my second Christmas here I am feeling surrounded by family even though it was my first Christmas without any blood relatives (last year I had my sister here). We really are provided for, aren't we? It's nice to know that even in the most geographically distant place that there are people to share a meal with during the holidays, people to celebrate the meaning of Christmas with even though we are without the traditional pomp and circumstance of the holidays.
I am relieved that the holidays are over. October-December is difficult mentally. The only major holiday left is Easter, and I really was never home for Easter anyways so there is not the feeling of being a missing puzzle piece scattered across the ocean.
It was a wonderful Christmas here in Zhong Guo. I missed you. But there is no other place on earth I would have rather been than right where I belong for the moment: here. I hope you feel the same way, wherever you are.
the thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,
for yonder breaks, the new and glorious morn
fall on your knees
and hear the angels voices
oh night divine
oh night, when He was born.
Some photographic evidence:
Christmas in my living room. A feast for the tummy and soul.
Christmas Eve service at my friend Hannah's. Candlelight, the Christmas story, and caroling.