There are a lot of things I miss about being in America for Christmas. All the classic (and sometimes tacky) Christmas decorations that have been around for years and years. There are some ornaments that are so ugly they are hidden on the back of the Christmas tree (a plastic Santa who is missing his arms, paper decorations we made when we were five). They are all an important part of Christmas. I love seeing all the lights on houses, our stockings my mom made, the cardboard Christmas door hangers, the perpetual smell of Christmas cookies.
But I also have to admit there are some fun things about being in China for Christmas, too. For one thing, students get soo excited about it. Yesterday afternoon we sang carols with students in front of the classroom building. There were probably a couple hundred students (it helped we had just finished class and told all our students to come. :) It may not have been the best thing you've ever heard, but the students sang with gusto, even if they were on the wrong notes and three different rhythms. Last night we had our Christmas culture lecture, which was sparsely attended because of all the other Christmas parties going on. The best part was when we sang Silent Night at the end. We turned out all the lights and had the students hold up their cell phones in lieu of candles. Not bad, and very Chinese.
After the lecture, Kelly, Christina, and I went to the girls' dorm to sing Christmas songs. We put on Santa hats, carried a stocking full of candy, and went around knocking on doors. As we were singing, the noise carried down the hallway and doors popped open. Curious students piled out into the hallway. At one point we were mobbed by about 50 students, freshmen of ours who all live close together. They crowded in to make sure we noticed them, grab some candy, and give cards and presents. Our foreignness gives us semi-celebrity status in normal life, but dress us up in Santa hats with bags of candy and it's just about all you could ask for. Students all wanted us to come and see their dormitory rooms. One student insisted we follow her down to her room. When we got there, the other roommates were standing in the darkened room holding candles and looking extraordinarily pleased with themselves. It was quite a nice effect, and we sang Silent Night together.
In the past few days, we have been inundated with cards and gifts. I will share my favorite card with you:
Thank you for all you have done for us. You are the most responsible teacher I've ever met. Thank you for your well-prepared classes. You are always so patient and kind-hearted to us. It is a great honor to be one of your students. I'm a little shy and not very good at oral English, so I send you a card to thank you and wish you Merry Christmas!
Sincerely yours, Student
Apparently she is shy! She didn't even tell me who she is. We always get some interesting gifts at Christmas. This year it has been lots of apples. Apples are popular in China at Christmas because the word for apple (ping guo) sounds like the word for peace (ping an). My favorite are the apples Kevin's students gave us. They wrote special notes in pen on the outsides. The bigger apple says, “This is for Ruth – bigger than Kevin :)” The other apple says, “This is for Kevin – because Kevin love Ruth :)” Ah, students are funny. But the most touching apples we received were from the copy guy and his wife, who we brought cookies to. They ran after Kevin last night when he made copies to give us apples in wrapped shiny paper. I definitely wasn't expecting anything from them and it makes me feel kind of warm and special. I guess we probably do our fair share to keep them in business.
Tomorrow we plan to celebrate with a late brunch and opening of presents. In the afternoon we will visit a deaf school in town to do some Christmas activities – games, card making, flannel-graph Christmas story... Christina has been there before, but it will be the first time for the rest of us, and we are bringing some students along. So it should be interesting. For now I'm just glad it is Christmas Eve and I actually don't have anything going on tonight! Now I will finally have time to wrap presents, fill stockings, and clean up for tomorrow.
Merry Christmas everyone!