Christmas celebration: china by xochi hopwood

december 22, 2018

In response to watching my first Christmas show at BCA, Children of the World, I decided to do a little digging into the hard facts of the holiday season beyond what is seen in the United States. If you haven’t seen the show, it was an hour long play put on by the lower school students to celebrate different holiday traditions around the world (kudos to everyone who put together such a great performance!). Among the countries mentioned in the play was China, and it sparked my interest considering multiple individuals from our student body come from there. With a large international student program at BCA, I seized the opportunity to sit down with a sophomore at the school and my personal friend, Wendy Wen. Coming from China two and half years ago to attend school in United States, she just recently enrolled in BCA this year. Staying with one of BCA’s very own teachers, Mrs. Norquist, I asked her how she felt about her host family. Immediately lighting up, Wendy gushed saying, “I love Mrs. Norquist! She is wise, kind, and I think there is nothing bad about her. I feel like I am the luckiest person to have her as my host mom.” Mentioning that this would be her first year not returning home for Christmas, she went on about her excitement to experience Christmas here in the States.

“They were so cute!” Wendy said as she laughed after being asked about the Children of the World play. “But the hats they wore were the old fashioned hats. If you trace back the history of China, people who wore those hats were middle class or even slaves”, she commented, stating that the dynasties and kings “never wore those hats”. Nevertheless, we both agreed on the major cuteness factor that held steady throughout the show.

Growing up in the United States, it is almost difficult to picture December without a Christmas tree, Mariah Carey, and sparkling lights. However, not only is it a cultural holiday, but often regarded as a very religious one as well. Nativity scenes pop up all over churches and towns, depicting the birth of Jesus and the meaning of it to the Christian community. “I think most people don’t even know it is about Jesus’ birth” said Wendy as she gave me a nervous look about the statement. Usually regarded as more of a ‘western holiday’, she went on to say that “young people will like to celebrate Christmas more” as it as time to sit back and have fun with friends. While we enjoy a nice long two week break from school, it would be rather unusual to even have the day off for Christmas in China. Rather, the two week break would come in a little later around January for a holiday referred to as ‘spring festival’. Mentioning that “it is kind of like Christmas, but just a different time”, Wendy explained the special calendar they followed that looked quite different to the one we are used to.

Decorated apples are gifted as a sign of good luck.

Decorated apples are gifted as a sign of good luck.

Continuing on my research, I googled different Chinese traditions that could be seen during the holiday. While some seemed more familiar than others, I had more than a few surprising reactions to what I found. Pulling up an article on The Washington Post titled “Eight fascinating facts about Christmas in China”, I asked Wendy what her accuracy rating was. Immediately scrolling down to the picture of the apple that was claimed to be a popular gift in China, my surprised reaction was met with Wendy’s laughter. “We would buy those Christmas apples from the [grocery] stores” she said, “They are real apples that are just wrapped or put in cute boxes. We would then send the boxes to our friends on Christmas Eve.” In retrospect, this confirmed fact is less shocking than originally thought—for as the the gifting of pears in the United States is normal, so is the gifting of apples in China.

In my small effort to understand the very apparent Chinese culture that is present at BCA among all the international students, I was even more amazed by all that they learn from coming to the United States. The language, culture, and celebrations such as Christmas are all an ingrained normalcy within our country and it can often be difficult to picture society without them! However, as we celebrate Christmas and all the delightful festivities that come with it, I encourage everyone to take time learn about other country’s traditions, just as all of BCA’s international students such as Wendy have taken time to learn about ours.