Our guest blog this week is written by Will Perrins. Will taught in Shenyang, China, in 2013/2014 and here he tells us what it was like to spend Christmas in China…
Arriving in Shenyang, China in 2013 was an experience I will never forget! Having stepped off the plane on the 31st of October, I was lucky enough to witness the surprisingly grand scale on which Halloween is celebrated in China. Greeted with an enormous Halloween party featuring around 100 kids from my school, dressed predominantly (and eerily convincingly) as Disney characters and a DJ dressed as Psy (Gangnam style was all the rage in China at the time) I was granted my first experience of a Western Holiday-Chinese Style!
As I got settled in China and became acquainted with the city’s small but tight-knit expat community, my thoughts quickly turned to Christmas. Being a dedicated lover of Christmas, I quickly learnt the phrase for Merry Christmas (Sheng Dan Kuai Le 圣诞快乐), joyfully calling it out to taxi drivers and my kid’s parents as the month of December wore on. Although Christmas day is not celebrated (most Chinese don’t know what date it is), festivities surrounding Christmas are incredibly visible throughout the winter. I had never seen so many giant inflatable snowmen and Santa-Clauses or lavish winter wonderlands as the centre-pieces of the cities many malls. We were equally festive at our school, plastering all the doors and windows with snowmen, reindeer and other yule-tide decorations!
Kitting the school out for Christmas!
It would be the first Christmas spent away from my family, like many other ESL teachers that have shared similar experiences, I turned to my ‘China Family’ of expat friends, who guided me and the other newcomers through Christmas traditions for foreign teachers in Shenyang. The group organized an all-day Christmas Party at one of our apartments, complete with Secret Santa (where I received some rather fetching Santa socks), a traditionally corny Christmas playlist, classic films and even a full Christmas dinner, we also picked up the chicken and lamb from a traditional Chinese meat market, making the experience complete!
Celebrating Christmas day together in Shenyang, 2013
Although spending Christmas away from my family was tough, the tight bonds I had formed with the expat community and my Chinese friends, made it a Christmas I will never forget. I was fortunate enough to spend the following Christmas in China, and help new teachers settle and enjoy the sometimes bizarre and always wonderful Christmas celebrations in China.
Christmas in Shenyang, 2014
Top tips for Christmas in China:
- It’s not a public holiday, so remember to ask your boss (very nicely) if you want Christmas day off!
- Kids go wild for Christmas, so if you’re teaching young ones remember to bring small gifts for them and their parents. It’s a great way to show respect and keep you in their good books
- Stick closely with your friends. At Christmas in China almost all expats are in the same boat. Make the most of your experience in together!
- Get your Chinese friends involved. Most Chinese are very interested in learning more about Western customs and holidays. This is one occasion where your old family Christmas snaps won’t the bore company you’re in!