By Ben Baldieri
Christmas in China is definitely a new experience. Only around 2% of the population identify as Christian, so celebrations and festivities here take place on a much smaller scale. Breakfast on the 1st December saw me break with my yearly tradition. My morning coffee was, for the first time in years, not accompanied by the chocolate from behind the first door of my advent calendar.
I’ve been teaching in Shenzhen since the end of August. This means I’ve missed all the usual festive build up – the premature Christmas songs on the radio, the mince pies and even the Coca Cola advert. That’s not to say I’m completely lacking in festive spirit. Christmas as a teacher in China, though different to what I’ve come to expect, provides a number of unique opportunities.
One of my favourite things about teaching is the positive impact you can have on someone so young. The kids are eager to learn about all things Western, and Christmas is about as Western as it gets. What better way to have that impact than through Christmas-themed lessons? A large number of Chinese school children have never had the opportunity to even interact with a foreigner, let alone experience a hallmark of a foreign culture. With the festive season comes the opportunity to change that.
I teach two English activity classes a week, and I have complete freedom over what I teach and how I teach it. As such, Christmas songs, activities and games have formed a key part of my lesson planning. Christmas-themed word searches and activities always go down a treat.
Christmas is a time for song, and Chinese kids absolutely love singing. It would be stupid not to make the most of that love. With that in mind, my goal for the end of the festive period is to have the class singing either ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ or ‘Jingle Bells’, whichever one they enjoy the most.
Christmas Pot Luck
Food and friends are a big part of my Christmas celebration. However, cooking a full Christmas meal in China is difficult. Everything is cooked on a hot plate, and nobody owns an oven. This means you’re quite limited with what you can do as an individual. There’s an easy fix for this though – rope in your friends.
Thanksgiving saw the inaugural Shenzhen-holiday-season pot luck. Everyone picked a dish from a list, made it, and brought it to a meal to share. It was such a success that Christmas will see the second such get-together. The holidays are best celebrated with food, friends and family. In the absence of one you have to make the most of the other two!
Christmas day in China is like any other day of the year. Thankfully, as a foreign teacher, I get Christmas day off. This is common for most foreign teachers in the public-school system, which means I’ll still be spending Christmas day with friends. Family will be slightly more difficult, as they’re the better part of 10,000km away.
Having a public holiday that the rest of the country does not provides a unique opportunity to travel. My first experience of intra-China travel was during the Golden week holiday, way back in October. The entire country was on holiday as well, which meant all the trains, buses, flights and hotels were sold out. That is luckily not the case with Christmas.
A number of cities are all within easy reach of Shenzhen thanks to the bullet train. I will be spending Christmas day in the neighboring city of Guangzhou. Guangzhou is a city with a long history of foreign inhabitants, which means things will be a little more Christmassy!
New Friends and FaceTime
When I first arrived, I thought Christmas in China was going to be a real challenge. I was going to be a long way from my family, and at the time, a long way from my friends. Christmas is a time for family and friends, so how was I going to be able to celebrate without either of those things?
As time has passed, it turns out those worries were completely misplaced. Technology means the distance from family is a small issue to overcome. I may not be with them physically, but at least I can still be there in voice and image. Praise be to FaceTime!
New friendships have formed as well, with my closest friends in China also being foreign teachers. We’re all sharing in this teaching adventure together, and all experiencing the same highs and lows of a festive period away from home. Christmas in China is what you make of it, and I’m going to make sure it’s my best one yet!