Not being a Christian country, China has traditionally been quite reluctant to get the Christmas bug. This seems to have changed dramatically in recent years, with kids eager to get presents and shops and businesses all eager to make as much money as possible. It’s the perfect symbiotic relationship, and commercialization reigns here as much as anywhere else.
I often get Christmas cards, emails and messages from my students, past and present. They mean well, but unfortunately too many of the season’s greetings get addressed to Christ, instead of Chris or Christian.
To Christ, marry Christmas!
I never found out who the ‘Christmas’ chick I was supposed to marry was, but I can tell you that being the son of God is a lot to live up to.
Almost every educational facility from kindergartens to universities and training schools have special events to mark Christmas. These usually take the form of a student performance. Last year at Xiangtan University, the drama club did a Shakespeare production. Juliet came out wearing a beautiful long, white dress, promptly tripped over it, face-planted, and gave herself a nosebleed. Romeo & Juliet never had so many laughs.
Spending Christmas away from home is always difficult. Of course, I miss people. But I have to work, and this is the life I chose, so all I can do is push those thoughts to the back of my head and get on with it. Luckily, we have a tight foreign community here in Changsha. Brits, Americans, French, Canadians, Germans, Poles, Danes, Swedes, Australians. We are all foreign to each other, but united in the fact that we are not Chinese. The Chinese rarely discriminate between nationalities (except the Japanese). To them its simple. You are either Chinese or foreign. A common Mandarin word for ‘foreigner’ is laowai. The etymology is complex, but tellingly, literally translated it means ‘always’ and ‘outsider.’
I usually have to work Christmas day, as do most teachers. It’s not a national holiday in China. Sometimes I have to be Santa Claus. I make a very bad Santa. A few years ago, when I worked at a primary school in Tianjin, the school asked me to host the Christmas party. Being the only foreigner there, I had no choice but to agree. They gave me this tattered red Santa suit and a script to learn. Yes, a script. Then they sent me into an assembly hall packed not just with hyperactive spoiled Little Emperors, but their parents, their grandparents, and it seemed like all their friends and extended family as well. All told, there must have been several hundred people there, all waiting to see Santa Claus.
I was a bit nervous, so I drank a bottle of Baijiu on the bus on the way to school, and by the time I got there I was quite pissed. So there I was, in a Santa suit, drunk, on a stage in front of hundreds of people, at 8 am Christmas morning, in northern China.
It couldn’t get any more surreal.
But it could certainly get worse.
I had been a good boy that year, and learned the script beforehand. So in my best Santa voice I bellowed my first line, “Ho, ho, ho, do you know who I am?”
To which a kid in the front row jumped up and shouted, “Yeah, I know who you are. You’re Chris. Our English teacher.”
What? That wasn’t in the script. How could I follow that?
There was a deathly hush, then a ripple of laughter gradually spread through the audience members as I shriveled up in embarrassment before a sea of strangers.
Merry Christmas, you little shit.