My first Christmas with Beijing characteristics turned out to be a joyful celebration (and I’m still celebrating at least until Epiphany on January 6 or until all of my packages/Christmas cards arrive). I appreciated celebrating Advent at a quieter pace than you can in the United States. I quietly set up my tree (given to me by other foreigners who didn’t need it any more) and decorated it with the ornaments I brought from the States, plus a few new ones I made—like the one below. Chinese churches started observing Advent and Christmas a few weeks ago and reminded us all that Christmas really isn’t about shopping and Santa and parties with friends.
And yet, for a few days before Christmas, I was pretty homesick. My mom was at home with a serious case of the flu, and I wasn’t there to help her. A lot of my own Christmas plans came together just a few days before Christmas, so a week out I didn’t know exactly how I would be celebrating. I learned this week that an ancient Chinese poet wrote “letters from home are worth a lot of gold,” and I didn’t know when my Christmas cards and packages would arrive. And life in China went on.
By Christmas Eve I was starting to pull out of my funk. I made myself spaghetti, garlic bread, and broccoli cranberry salad for dinner because we always ate Italian food on Christmas when I was young (and the salad just sounded good and I don’t often make salad here because you have to wash vegetables really carefully to eat them raw). After dinner I gathered to worship with other foreigners (Chinese church services around Christmas are the topic for an upcoming post). After I returned home, I skyped with my sister.
Christmas morning I made myself a special breakfast—orange cranberry muffins and a cheesy potato bake with eggs. Both tasted good, but only the potato bake was actually turned out as pretty as the picture on pinterest. At about 10:45am I got a call on my cell phone from package delivery service, checking if I was at home. Since I was he came and delivered the Christmas package from my parents. So I got to open some really beautiful Christmas gifts and it was even still Christmas morning.
In the afternoon, I went to another American family’s home. He is teaching at a local university for the year and they have three teenage children. They are my neighbors because it is only a 15-20 minute walk to their house from mine. We played games, ate snacks, and watched A Christmas Carol. One thing that struck me is how special things that would be pretty ordinary in the United States are. As part of our snack spread, we had those pretzel/hershey kiss/m&m treat things. They seemed really special here, where they are pretty normal at home. For dinner we had tacos (yum!) and cookies and played more games. I’ve been baking and freezing cookies for a couple of weeks so I could put together nice cookie plates for events. I guess this is a Christmas tradition in my family that I have adopted.
The fun continued on the 26th. I started the day with a four-way video conference with my family in Michigan, New Jersey, and Colorado (it was still Christmas day for all of them). It was pretty fun to be together for a little bit and hear about various ways we were celebrating Christmas. We probably should have taken a screen shot of the fun, but we didn’t. I headed off to class as they enjoyed Christmas dinner. When I got home from class, another package had arrived (this time left in the “package boxes” in my apartment complex—they text you a code to be able to open the box and get your package). This was the package from my sisters so I got more wonderful treasures. They and my parents did a great job shopping and shipping. I now have lots of chai tea to drink, which makes me happy because I haven’t been able to find it anywhere here. I feel very loved!
In the evening, a Chinese friend came over to hang out and make cookies. Earlier in December I got sugar cookie and frosting mixes in a package that I hadn’t used yet. So we had fun baking and decorating them together, and sharing some Christmas joy!
During all of these events I’ve been listening to my (fairly extensive) collection of Christmas music. I buy at least one new album every year. This year, the albums I got are all pretty amazing and I’d recommend them to you. One of them is even free! (P.S. These are not affiliate links and none of these artists know anything about me. Its just what I’ve actually been listening to.)
Blood Oranges in the Snow by Over the Rhine (beautiful, melancholy songs that are wonderful for listening during Advent)
O Come by Eine Blume (indie-folk group; this was recorded in the dining room of their first house and has the sound of a group of people singing at home, which I love)
Songs for Christmas by Branches (this one I found on Noisetrade and I LOVE their version of “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”)
I hope that however or wherever you celebrated that you were filled with joy that our God-is-with-us! Merry Christmas!