Our family has been fortunate enough to return home almost every year for Christmas. As such, my husband Randy and I have had a hard time convincing ourselves that we should put up a Christmas tree or any decorations at all. Additionally,when we come back to the apartment in January, the last thing I want to do is fight with unreasonable jet-lagged kids who want to cling to those last vestiges of Christmas spirit when I really just want to restore order and move on with the calendar. However, it would not be fair or right for our kids to be told how important Christmas is and not have any signs of it in our own home. Besides, it felt downright Grinch-like not to make any Christmas effort at all.
During our first year in China, the only festive cheer we had was three resin snowmen I won in a silent auction. If it weren’t for these, we would have had nothing Christmas-themed in our apartment at all. They were joined the following year by some odds and ends from Starbucks. Friends of mine who owned a shop gave us some leftover decorations and a slightly shop-worn plush Santa bear.
The year our daughter Brigid was born was the only time we remained in China throughout the festive season, so we actually bought a small fake tree, accompanying ornaments and garlands, as well as a nativity set. Keeping with our Starbucks theme, my son Myles requested another coffee-cup ornament. I fear that his association between Christmas and Starbucks will be life-long.
After almost five years, we are finally admitting to ourselves that we may actually spend more Decembers (either in whole or in part) in China, so we really ought to begin our Christmas here. Our tree goes up the first week of Advent and Christmas music plays almost non-stop. Last year, we introduced Christmas cookie baking.
For several days my son Myles and I mixed, rolled, and shaped batches upon batches of cookies. After most of the decorative, festive gift cookies were finished, we invited his local friends to the house for the finale – gingerbread. One Chinese boy had recently read The Gingerbread Man in English, so he was especially interested in seeing how they were made. When he came over with his parents, his mother asked for an apron and offered to help. I surprised her by telling her that the boys, 5 and 6-years-old, were going to be doing most of the work. Patiently and conscientiously they took turns with the rolling pin and cookie cutters. As the cookies baked, we re-read The Gingerbread Man as well as a few other winter-themed books. It wasn’t until the following October, though, that I got a real measure of the success when Myles’ friends started asking when Christmas was, so they could make gingerbread again.
When we returned after our last holiday break, I was very unpopular with the 6-and-under crowd for putting the decorations away almost immediately. I have to admit it was not fun ending Christmas for the second time in a month. But if this is the trade-off for the holiday-making in December, we’ll take it.