Call me crazy, but there’s something I love about airports at Christmas in the US. The hustle and bustle. The waiting areas packed with people as you trip over luggage and have to sit on top your suitcase on the floor. There is a sense of excitement (okay, yes sometimes also stress) in the air. Christmas is coming. For a moment, it feels like we are all on the same team. We are all looking forward to something together.
That’s the strangest thing when I walk outside on Christmas in China. It’s like the world is going on around me—a world where Christmas is maybe a passing thought, an apple on Christmas Eve, but not an overshadowing reality.
It makes me think of the first Christmas. Our imagery of Christmas is so often homecoming—the happy glow of family and friends. (This week I listened to a Christmas version of Michael Buble’s Home by Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert—I must say tears were running down my cheeks.) But that wasn’t the reality of the first Christmas. Everyone was not excited and aware of what was going on. A young pregnant woman and her husband had to journey away from home. They were uncomfortable, misplaced—a yet in that moment is where we see great redemption.
Here in this place, Christmas can too seem misplaced, but just as there is joy for me in crowded airport waiting areas, I can also discover joy in sharing Christmas with those who may have never really known what it is. It’s a joy to receive giant earmuffs, fancy boxes with apples (in Chinese the word for apple “pinguo” and the word for Christmas Eve/Peaceful Night “pingan” sound similar so it is a custom to give apples on Christmas eve), and boxes of candy. It’s a joy to bake hundreds (literally over 300) cookies and get to share Christmas stories, songs and customs with students. It’s a joy to have nearly 90 students come through my house…taking about that number of selfies each with my Christmas tree.
Christmas Open House with my students!
It’s a joy because even though Christmas can seem misplaced, I still know that true joy has come—to the whole world. And even moments where Christmas can seem misplaced, misunderstood or out of place, I’m reminded that those are the moments when redemption shines through.
Last weekend, I had the exciting opportunity to attend my first Chinese wedding. It’s something I’ve been excited about doing since I arrived here a year ago. Our neighbor (who is also our invaluable colleague and helper) got married. We were so happy to celebrate with her!
Some interesting Chinese wedding traditions & observations:
- Traditionally, the women’s parents do not attend the wedding because the woman is leaving her family and joining the groom’s family. Today, more and more brides (especially in the cities) have their parents at the wedding. The bride’s parents did attend this wedding and her father walked her in and presented her to the groom–similar to what we are accustomed to at Western weddings.
- In another influence from Western culture, more brides wear white wedding dresses as opposed to the traditionally-styled red dress. In spite of this, the bride will often change into a red dress.
- Wedding pictures are often taken at various locations before the wedding, similar to what we do for engagement photos, only the bride and groom wear various formal attire (wedding dresses, colorful formals, etc. I think the outfits are often rented.)
- The wedding itself might seem a little bit more like a reception, centered around a meal and taking place in a hotel ballroom. There is an announcer who MCs the event (quite loud and energetic–think of the guy who introduces the basketball players at the beginning of the game). I’ve heard vows are not always said (perhaps a simple question of “will you marry this person?”), but our wedding did have something similar to Western wedding vows. (Or so I was told. I basically understood the part where the bride said I love you.)
- The day of the wedding is strategically chosen by a variety of factors according to the Chinese zodiac calendar. I’m not sure exactly how this works, but I do know it takes into account the bride and groom’s birth years, as well as days that are considered lucky. Apparently all of 2015 is both a bad year to get married and a bad year to have children. That’s unfortunate. (Pun intended.)
- As part of the ceremony, the bride and groom have to call their new in-laws mama and baba (mother and father), until they do so satisfactorily. Then they receive a gift from the parents.
- After the ceremony, the bride and groom walk around to each table and toasts all of their guests.
- The event is quite colorful. Some even have fireworks indoors. We didn’t have fireworks, but a screensaver that gave a simulated look of them at times. Not quite as exciting, but I’m sure I’ll have plenty of other opportunities to see and hear fireworks living in China 🙂
**Yes, I do remember I have a blog. I’m planning on weekly updates this year, so if I don’t do it you can keep me accountable.**