Today is Christmas. There’s no snow (It’s a mild 70F outside). There’s no Santas or Christmas trees (unless you count the occasional fake tree planted in the lobbies of some malls and hotels). But there is non-stop Christmas music playing at McDonald’s, Starbucks, and some malls and supermarkets. Welcome to Christmas in Guangzhou.
It is a much more muted affair here. Chinese New Year is the main holiday here where nearly the whole population jumps on a train or flies on a plane back to their hometown Imagine hundreds of millions of people driving their cars or using mass transportation to go back home. And they’re all doing it a day before Christmas Eve. You would be fortunate to celebrate Christmas on the 25th, if at all.
At any rate, some Chinese students still enjoy doing something special on Christmas, even if it’s a Western holiday. Some give gifts to each other. Others eat out and do karaoke later. And some prepare an elaborate performance on that day. That’s what they did at our college, Guangdong Baiyun University.
It was an interesting mash of Christmas, Chinese New Year, and a Shakespearean tragedy. In the beginning, a group of preschoolers danced to a traditional Chinese song. Most of them seemed to enjoy it, except for the one bawling girl who was absorbed in exploring the inside of her nose.
There were several dance performances, which frankly had no relation to any holiday whatsoever. But they were fun to watch. There there was a Chinese drama with these heroes defeating a witch and an evil queen (kind of a Snow White rip-off). And then there was this modern Romeo and Juliet tragedy where an evil Santa killed the girl who this boy loved. I’m not sure if the boy died of heartbreak or just fainted after seeing his deceased lover. It certainly put a morbid spin on who Santa was.
At the end, the dean thanked the students for their spirited performance, and then somehow convinced us teachers to come onto the stage and perform for the students. I was hoping we could sing a Christmas song and end it there. Instead we were given a hip-hop beat to dance to. Keith was the star performer, I flailed around, and the others stood as still as Christmas trees. I think we won’t be asked to dance again.
The next day students from the English Association asked us teachers to join them for a Christmas BBQ. We all clambered onto an open air shuttle that took us to the BBQ. It was surrounded by farmland. Not sure how they advertised this place. There were probably 30-40 tables with charcoal grates in the middle of each. The worker took a propane tank, attached a hose to it, and embroiled the charcoals in a stream of propane.
Once the charcoals began burning, we placed a grill on top and began to BBQ. There was a large spread of meats and vegetables to choose. There was beef, chicken, pork, snails, seafood, and some odd looking shapes that claimed to be meat. On the veggie side, you could get eggpant, mushrooms, onions, peppers, cabbage, potatoes, and other leafy vegetables.
We were novice grillers very talented at burning our food. We had burnt snails, burnt beef skewers, and burnt meatballs. At least I knew those were cooked. The orange chicken didn’t change color when it was cooked which concerned me. Strangely enough, we had plenty of food, but little that appealed to me.
We covered one half of the grill in aluminum foil and cooked some food over that. Unfortunately, the oil accumulated quickly on the foil, and eventually spurts of flame would erupt on it. I liked grilled food, but would rather avoid roast fingers.
After nearly two hours of BBQ, some of us went to the karaoke stage. I went to listen but was inevitably compelled to sing along with some students. Adele’s “There’s a Fire” deserved better justice. Later, we decided to have our own little Christmas performance where we (Keith, Chinese students, and I) sang “O Holy Night” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” I hope nobody videoed that performance. If they did, they might find some deleted files on it the next day.
On Christmas day, I went to GICF (Guangzhou International Christian Fellowship) to celebrate Jesus’ birth with over 500 people. It was an enjoyable time of singing Christmas carols and watching two Christmas performances. One was the traditional kids’ nativity story, and the other was a mime performance set to a worship song.
Rather than a whole body performance, they only used their hands to form words or created pictures of the cross and people. With the lights turned off, the words seemed to levitate on stage. It was a creative, powerful way to tell the real meaning of Christmas – God sending his Son, Jesus, to become a man, live a perfect life, die for this sinful world, and rise again proving he was God.
One of the elder pastors spoke about the real meaning of Christmas and talked about worshipping a baby, a dying man, and a king. In other words, worshipping Jesus the God-man who gave his life for us and will one day return to this world to reclaim his creation and purify it once again.
It was a good reminder to me. I will certainly miss not celebrating Christmas this year with my family. But wherever I am, I can celebrate a risen Lord who chose to become a weak, helpless child to redeem this sinful, fallen world. That is the greatest gift anyone could ever ask for.