An American in Chengdu

Christmas | December 31, 2009

It seems to me that the assault of Christmas is so total in the US that it can’t fail to induce a certain cynicism in most sane

The Wangjiang River on Christmas. There are a few lanterns above the trees on the left.

people. The mandatory shopping! The carols! The decorations! The carols! The sweets! I try to ignore it for two months, and then I go home, where the tree is already up and decorated. I put the presents I brought into gift bags, and there it is: Christmas, with little effort required on my part.

This year, however, I felt there wasn’t going to be much of a Christmas unless I made it happen myself. It happened that my last spoken English session with the doctors fell on the 25th, so it was obvious what the theme of that day’s lesson should be. But how to stage a non-depressing Christmas party at 10 am in an unheated, fluorescent-lit classroom? This would require some preparation.

On my trip home I stocked up on candy canes, some decorations, and miniature stockings. I found more decorations in China. Since I don’t have an oven, I got the number of a local woman who delivers bagels to a friend and, with Samantha as a mediator for the rather complicated transaction, put in an order for cookies shaped like angels and Christmas trees. I chose a song to teach the students (Santa Claus is Coming to Town) and a movie to show (Elf, for which I put together a vocabulary sheet). I coordinated a Secret Santa gift exchange among the students.

All this paid off on Christmas morning, as the students were wonderfully enthusiastic about everything from getting their pictures taken with “Santa” (me in a Santa hat), to opening presents, to the napkins I’d bought that had Christmas tree designs printed on them (apparently they’re just used to the white kind here).

That afternoon I went to a small get-together hosted by a Canadian and a Scot, where the broken remains of the Christmas cookies were a big hit. We ate treats and chatted, played a trivia and charades games, and had a white elephant gift exchange in which everyone was too polite to take anyone else’s gift.

We moved on to someone else’s apartment for dinner, an informal but bountiful spread of Sichuan dishes. I headed home around 10:00. Near the bars and clubs along the river, Christmas didn’t look much different from any other Friday night in Chengdu, though perhaps it was a little busier. As I crossed a bridge I saw people lighting fires under red lanterns, and stopped to admire the result: star-like points of light rising up to keep the moon company. This may be a holiday tradition, but I suspect that, like dodging trained monkeys, it’s just something to do when you’re out on a weekend night.

In conclusion, I’m still not sure what exactly Christmas means in China, though it looks like an excuse to decorate, wish people merry Christmas, and perhaps have a party. But I had a great time in my role as Christmas ambassador.


1 Comment »

  1. Aw, that sounds fun! I love Christmas.

    Comment by Helen — January 3, 2010 @ 1:24 am

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    About me

    I've come to Sichuan in search of adventure, fluency in Chinese, and awesome vegetarian food. I have to concede that the baby pandas are very cute.
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