I had actually planned to quietly ignore Christmas, especially since I live in a place where the whole world doesn’t come to a crashing halt because of the holiday. On the agenda was the usual workload – I’m in the middle of administering and grading final exams, and the only thing I did have planned was to observe my yearly, asocial Christmas Eve ritual, which I won’t describe here.
But things didn’t go as planned. I should have known. I spent Christmas in China two years ago, and while I did manage to engage in my Christmas Eve ritual then, there was still what I like to refer to as ‘an explosion beyond my control’ (see posts from that period here).
As a white, Western person in China, is it expected that I celebrate Christmas. When I say that I don’t, people get confused. In some ways, is the equivalent of Western people assuming that all Chinese people are good at math and play the cello, although it is also more than that. People just don’t have the concept of diversity in religion or even diversity in thought here because there really isn’t a great diversity in religion or thought in their own lives. It’s not accepted. Aboriginal peoples have diminished in China for a variety of reasons, and are usually located in specific regions anyhow. And of course the government has tight control over religion and free-thinking. So the idea of a Western country formed of people of many religions and races and/or people who buck traditions to do their own thing is hard to wrap a Chinese mind around. So, long story short, my apartment became decorated in a serious Christmas way thanks to one industrious student. I have fake snow sprayed in Christmas images on my windows. I have a chest-high fake tree. I have lights that I have somehow forgotten to plug in. I have a paper wreath that says “Feliz Navidad” on my front door.
Interestingly and bizarrely, many Chinese have grabbed hold of Christmas as a concept, but only as an excuse to have a party. There is no understanding of the history/origin of the holiday and no real observance of any of the things that make Christmas unique or special in the West. It is actually kind of offensive if you think about it. It would be the equivalent of Western people having a party at Chinese New Year – the most important festival in this part of the world – putting up some decorations in a language they don’t understand, calling it a Chinese Spring Festival party, inviting some Cambodians and yelling “Happy Chinese New Year” at them, and neglecting to understand the history and traditions or putting any meaning into the party. A Chinese person attending the festivities would see it as hollow and exploitative and wonder why it was being done.
Now, having started all this on a serious and critical note, I’ll flip it and say, despite everyone’s ignorance, the intentions were well-meaning. I had a group of students from my Electrical Automation class (aka my “Electric Class”) come by with a gift (they were actually on a mission to visit every one of their 10 professors that day!) I have also received several apples. This is one thing some Chinese have done in response to paying an odd lip-service to Christmas. The word for ‘apple’ in Chinese sounds the same (with a different character) as part of the word for ‘peace’ [苹果 píng guǒ versus 和平 hé píng]. In my photo gallery below, you can see some of the cute boxes single apples were packaged in. As a note, if you try to buy apples on Christmas Eve, you can expect to pay a lot more for them.
I also missed out on my Christmas Eve ritual as I was strong-armed into going to a Christmas party put on by one of the clubs. It was cute, but exhausting. I will point out that one of the games they played involved introducing students to Christmas terminology, so they get an A for effort in looking up some history and information about the festival. All the usual stuff was there – Christmas carol, stocking, etc – but I am not sure what their sources were, as I saw words come up on the PowerPoint slide that I’d never heard before. One was ‘menology’. I looked it up later and found the following definition:
Menology: An ecclesiastical calendar of the months, esp. a calendar of the Greek Orthodox Church containing biographies of the saints.
I can’t say that it wasn’t an educational evening. I do like to learn new things, and I have now increased my vocabulary.
So below, I have a bunch of photos to commemorate this holiday. I also have a very short video, which will likely be funny only to me and possibly one other person. I do apologize – I’m afraid that I have gone a bit insane recently due to being mostly cooped up indoors with not enough human interaction as a result of my ankle injury. Anyhow, my students gave me a plush toy dog that is capable of recording sound. The idea is that you say something cute like “Merry Christmas!” Instead, due to a recent conversation with a fellow blogger about kookaburras (ahem), I decided to record a short kookaburra call. I mean, it’s not actually that funny, but it puts me in hysterics. Check it out below…