Christmas memories from foreigners living in China
Updated: 2017-12-24 06:44

Editor's note: As Christmas is approaching, China Daily website invites readers to share their warm memories during this cold season.

Jocelyn Eikenburg sits with her husband's family in the Hangzhou countryside in December 2013. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

In December 2013, I had to spend Christmas in the Hangzhou countryside with my husband's family, who never had the tradition to celebrate this holiday.

It was my first Christmas away from America in many years, and the loss felt palpable in this rural village, where there wasn't even a hint of the holidays. But in the end, I made a resolution -- if they could not bring Christmas to me, I would bring it to them.

My in-laws helped me look through their storage to find my old Christmas tree, which I had bought years ago in China. I was delighted to see the ornaments were still there and the string of lights even worked.

I pulled out my classic chocolate cake recipe, which had become a holiday tradition, and baked a wonderful dessert for the family -- a little crumbly, but still satisfying.

And on Christmas Day, I shared the spirit of giving by presenting relatives in the village with imported chocolates wrapped in festive gold foil.

Everyone in the family responded with such warm smiles, generating a Christmas glow all their own. It wasn't Christmas like I remembered, yet it was memorable all the same.

Jocelyn Eikenburg is a copy editor with chinadaily.com.cn.

Lona Manning stands with her husband in front of a Christmas tree in China. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

When you live in a second- or third-tier city in China it can take a lot more time and effort to assemble those ingredients we consider essential for a proper Christmas, whether you're talking turkey, nutmeg or candy canes. My husband Ross wanted to make reindeer candy canes with our young students last year. We couldn't find candy canes in the stores, so a friend ordered some on the internet for us. We spotted the googly eyes and pipe cleaners at a market in Shanghai. I think I brought the red puffy noses with me from Canada, and voila, reindeer candy canes with four classes of children. Plus we taught them to sing The 12 Days of Christmas, of course.

This was all requested, by the way. The parents of our students—the ones who aspire to send their children abroad to finish their education—were very interested in Christmas, so we're not being cultural imperialists.

Speaking of Chinese-made Christmas decorations, it was the Chinese that gave the Western world an entirely new type of decoration: the inflatable Santa or Snowman for the front yard, which collapses into a disconsolate plastic puddle when the electricity is turned off. I prefer the colorful wedding arches that appear in our neighborhood when someone is getting married, with double happiness signs, phoenixes and dragons. I hope they catch on in Canada too!

Lona Manning is a Canadian who has lived and worked in China for three years.

Diogo Calado joins a group of volunteers to offer assistance to homeless people living in Lisbon, Portugal on Dec 24, 2008. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

Christmas, celebrated in many countries of the world, is a time of abundance usually spent at home with family. However, not everyone is fortunate to have a home or a family, so this is also a time for sharing.

On Christmas Eve in 2008, instead of being in the comfort of home with my relatives, I joined a group of friends to cook, prepare and distribute meals to homeless persons living in different districts of Lisbon. We also provided medical assistance with the support of a private hospital.

Delivering well-being, relieving some suffering and especially sharing moments of joy with persons who face such of hardships in life just gave me the best Christmas ever. At the same time it reminded me how fortunate I am.

Diogo Calado is a researcher and lecturer at Tianjin University of Traditional Chinese Medicine and a doctoral candidate in Chinese internal medicine and pharmaceutical sciences.

The front garden of a house in Drumchapel with various Christmas decorations as suburbia lights up for Christmas on Dec 18, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland. [Photo/VCG]

Most of my Christmas days have been spent in London, Beijing or Shanghai in last 10 years and they were quite cold. One involved visiting a snowy Summer Palace in Beijing together with students. However, before that I had two very nice, warm Christmas holidays with family.

The first was to Gran Canaria, an island in the Channel Isles providing pleasant weather in December. I still remember boarding the charter flight Boeing 757 at London’s Gatwick airport at 6 am. The pilot came on and said: “This aircraft is freezing cold - sorry!” He soon warmed it up and we had a smooth journey. It was great to be in shorts on Dec 25 and lounging by the pool. We still managed to get a traditional turkey on Christmas Day.

The next Christmas we were hungry for more sun so we went to the USA - to Miami Breach in Florida - and enjoyed hot weather, a Christmas lunch in the hotel and more lounging by a pool. Then we explored the art deco buildings along the boulevard.

The only problem with these two great and very warm Christmas experiences was coming back to freezing London afterward. That’s life!

Colin Speakman is an economist who teaches about Chinese Economic Development and director of China programs for CAPA The Global Education Network in cooperation with East China Normal University in Shanghai.

Roast turkey, ham and beef are traditionally served during the Christmas feast. [Photo provided to Shanghai Star]

I transfixed on the warm oak door, my senses ablaze: the smell of cinnamon and the sound of voices long unheard swam through the wood to settle freely around me. My vision shook as lights glimmered across slivers of tinsel and mischievously escaped through the keyhole. Bodies moved from room to room wrapped in the warm glow of a soft gold light.

Spaces had endlessly expanded and shrunk between us over time. But now, I stood separated not by miles but a door, behind which the real versions of those same people I’d learned to carry in my heart now lingered in the delight of each other’s smiles, in moments and memories, in a blanket of love weighed down by selflessness and gratitude and promises we’d try our best to keep. I reached out, and felt the merciless cold of the iron door handle curl itself into my palm -- first with confusion, then what seemed to be recognition.

Time slowed; the door opened.

I was home again.

Charlie Clarkson is a copy editor with chinadaily.com.cn.

A beautifully decorated Christmas tree. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

Growing up as a child, the season that I anticipated the most was Christmas, and this is still a feeling I have to this day.

As soon as it’s Dec 1, I get elated. Also when one’s birthday falls right in the middle of the festive season then he has even more reason to be over the moon.

Christmas has always been an exciting moment for me, I remember at school we would all join in singing Christmas carols and designing Christmas cards.

“Come on ring the bell, light the Christmas tree, Jesus is the king, born for you and me! Come on ring the bell, everybody see, Jesus we remember, this your birthday!”

This song has always been one of my favorite Christmas carols. I also loved attending the Christmas parties organized by school, where everyone would go home happily with presents from Santa.

At home, everyone had to join in cleaning the house before lighting and decorating the Christmas tree. We would also prepare fruitcake and sorrel, which are part of the Christmas tradition.

On Christmas Eve, the streets and malls would be busy as it was called “family shopping day”. Parents would take their children shopping for toys, clothes and shoes just to name a few. We would stay up until midnight to wish everyone a merry Christmas and unwrap the gifts.

As a community, caroling was great way to spend the evenings leading up to Christmas Day. My family and I enjoyed caroling with different groups. We would go to every home singing and bringing warm tidings. These were really fond memories.

I am thankful to have been raised in family where the true meaning of Christmas doesn’t lose its focus, which is the birth of Jesus Christ. As part of tradition it was mandatory that we attend church on this day.

Five years after coming to China, I haven’t fully experienced that feeling of Christmas. But I am optimistic that soon I will get to experience that season again.

Curtison George is an American student pursuing a bachelor’s degree at the University of International Business and Economics (UIBE) in Beijing.


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