My First Christmas Away…
This week’s blog comes from Mahalia Peake, University of Nottingham graduate currently teaching in Foshan as part of the 2018 Teach China Graduate Program. This is her third blog installment, Mahalia lets us in on what it is like living in China during the festive period.
My First Christmas in China
I never thought my first Christmas away from home would be spent in the south of China, as I’m sure is the consensus for many of my fellow expats fresh out of university and venturing out on their own for the first time. Over the two weeks, since December began, I’ve been able to glean a little bit of what Christmas means to the Chinese both in and outside of an international Kindergarten.
Christmas Celebrations at an International Kindergarten
While I can’t speak for all International Kindergarten’s, in my school Christmas means serious business! Every classroom is beautifully decorated, with every room having its own tree; the school foyer has been transformed into a winter wonderland with the help of a ruby red tree the size of a house; and even the foreign teacher’s office has its own Christmas tree next to the printer. The festivities don’t stop at decorations though; activities such as carol singing, posting letters to Santa, visiting Santa’s grotto, and making gingerbread houses have all been incorporated into the teaching syllabus to give the children an authentic idea of what it means to celebrate Christmas in Western culture.
As it should be obvious by now, ideas and attitudes about Christmas within a Chinese International School steers away from religious elements such as Christianity and instead focuses on the more globalised idea that Christmas is a day in which Santa gives presents to good boys and girls. Christmas in an international school is very similar to Christmas in an English school, and can definitely become a little like your very own Christmas home away from home.
Christmas in China
Considering that Christmas is a Western holiday, I was surprised at how widespread its influence has become within China. While it has not yet reached a domestic standing, capitalist China has definitely taken it in stride.
It seems every shop in China has a ‘The Best of Christmas’ playlist on loop, and even the street markets in Guangzhou are serenading shoppers with quirky jazz renditions of jingle bells and other fan favourites! China is big on flashing lights and pop up skyscrapers, an appreciation which they’ve carried onto their Christmas décor. One should expect to find at least one 50 foot-tall Christmas Tree in front of every shopping mall in Guangzhou, as the plaza’s all eye for the number one spot of having the most outlandish Christmas tree of the year. The merchandise in these shops has also adopted the Christmas spirit, with bakeries making delicious treats in the shape of candy canes and skincare products being rebranded to reflect the holidays.
If I were to comment on the Chinese attitude of Christmas, I would say that Christmas is seen as an entertaining commodity. It’s not a time in which people meet up with family to have a big Christmas roast dinner and watch Elf for the 100th time, but rather it’s an opportunity to decorate in a new and pretty colour scheme and sell quirky things at cheaper prices all in the spirit of Christmas.
Enjoying the Festivities with Friends
While spending Christmas in China can undoubtedly make you feel a little homesick, there are always ways to make it feel a little better. I, as are many other expats, am planning to cook my own Christmas dinner with my fellow foreign teachers…as well as binge watch all the Christmas classics while we stuff our face with homemade mince pies in true Christmas fashion!