Urban Chinese students love shopping, so it’s no surprise they’ve embraced Christmas. Rosy-cheeked portraits of jolly ole Saint Nick decorate the windows of business establishments along with sparse plastic trees of all colors wrapped with twinkle lights. During our first years in China, 2010 until around 2012, you’d have never known the season had arrived, but today’s modern China assures you through sales and decor, it’s time for gift-giving.
Outside glowed of consumerism Christmas, but we made sure our home warmed those who entered with the love and coming of Christ. During the years my husband taught English, we invited students into our home to celebrate Christmas by learning about its traditions, meaning, and the hope it declares.
Here are five memories of those Christmases that I cherish most.
1. Photo shoots
I tend to over-decorate for Christmas. I blame it on my grandfather whose love of Christmas was unparalleled. When friends entered our home during Christmas season I wanted them to have a sense of warmth in their hearts; a bit of peace. Though decorations were not easy to come by, we collected bits year-by-year. My children and I made many of them thanks to lovely Chinese stationary stores. The first time we had students in our home they were busy—taking photos of every ornament, wall hanging, nativity, and piece of holiday decor. Then, for at least thirty minutes, a photo shoot of group photos and selfies took place in front of our Christmas tree. There must be hundreds of photos of my home at Christmas all over WeChat!
2. Cookie decorating
Due to the number of students in our home, I didn’t make the effort to bake cookies, but I did provide a variety of icing, sprinkles, gummies, and lollies for decorating them. Students loved this little arts and crafts-like event and eating the cookies afterwards.
One of the funniest moments happened to be a culture-learning moment as well. One very vocal student grabbed an already decorated cookie and shouted while holding it up, “Look at this one, it’s so ugly!” I just calmly looked at him and said, “That’s mine.” Though the cookie was mine and I wasn’t at all offended, he suddenly felt so ashamed to have shamed me, his host.
When he realized I had taken no offense and laughed with him, he smiled once again and jumped back into cookie decorating. We all had a good laugh at how foreigners design their cookies to look like wreaths and trees while they decorated theirs like Hello Kitty and smiley faces.
3. Gifts for my children
Being invited into a teacher’s home meant bringing a gift for the host. On these special occasions, we’d receive anything from paper-cuttings, flower bouquets, and figurines. But the thoughtfulness of Chinese students and their love for children meant our children received gifts, too. The gifts they received were priceless for their originality and memorability, but humbling considering the givers were only students.
One group brought my children a live goldfish and told them to feed it rice. My favorites of all, were the larger-than-life-sized stuffed animals we received over the years: an elephant, Hello Kitty, a giraffe, teddy bears to name a few. They also received a guitar and accordion. The generosity of the students moved us and made our children feel included and loved.
4. Playing games
To practice English and learn Christmas terminology we played a Pictionary-like game which we created. We wrote Christmas-related words on strips of paper and put them in a Santa hat. Students drew out a slip with what was often an unfamiliar term, and then attempted to draw an image of the word on a white-board in front of the group, adding details until someone guessed the drawing. This stretched everyone’s ability in communication, drawing, and interpretation. Students loved these opportunities to not worry about school and enjoy each other’s company. We shared in a lot of laughter which brought us all Christmas cheer.
5. Defining and Sharing
My favorite part of having students in our home was the moment our family shared the meaning of Christmas. We defined each item in our home that we used to decorate—everything from our Christmas tree, to the Christmas cookies and the lights. We wanted these young people to see beyond consumerism and recognize the tradition and meanings of each item. I loved seeing their eyes light up and hear the light “ahh” in their voices. Then we shared a story from the Bible and explained what Emmanuel, God with us, means to our family and what it means for them. The act of sharing with them the richness of Christmas and the significance of God coming down to be with us is humbling and beautiful. I take joy knowing we shared in that together.
During the Christmas season, let’s pray for teachers living in China as they share Emmanuel with their students. Though taught as a western tradition, Christmas remains one way, increasingly the only way, to introduce students to the living God.
Beth Forshee studied journalism and public relations at Baylor University in Waco, TX and has been serving in various aspects of ministry to China for over 13 years. Her love for China’s culture and people started on her first short-term trip in 2001. Later Beth and her family served in... View Full Bio
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