Christmas for me has always been a gigantic family affair with an even bigger itinerary. On Christmas morning, I would be the one shaking my parents ‘til they awoke, a girl who on any other day requires a forklift to get out of bed. After an enthusiastic lap around the Christmas tree and the cascade of presents lying under it, I would sit, wait and wonder why my parents could not get out of bed any faster! My brother and I were already up, counting the presents and eyeing our pregnant stockings.
“Aren’t there more presents than last year?” my dad would remark, to which my mom would reply with a shrug and a smile.
After sorting out the presents, our family of four would pile ourselves and our gifts into the car and head towards a Chin family Christmas the same day. The location of the party would change over time, but early on, we used to cram into Ngan Ngan’s one-bedroom apartment. All 21 of us. It’s a good thing Grandma was happy to host us.
A traditional sit-down meal was not an option with that many people, so food was self-serve buffet-style. Among the traditional American Christmas fare of mashed potatoes and a meat roast was the Chin’s infamous sticky rice stuffing. Our Christmas might have seemed chaotic to an outsider, but alas, there was a method to the madness. The rules were as follows: kids received presents from every family cluster, while the adults would participate in Secret Santa. Gift opening and show-and-tell was done in ascending age order, beginning with the youngest of the clan, which for a long time was lucky little me.
I must confess, however, that aside from seeing family, eating sticky rice, receiving an abundance of presents, and other joys, there was a source of panic for me on these occasions: the distribution of presents. From a young age, I understood that our family was large, but with that came the task of remembering five uncles’, four aunts’ and eight cousins’ names. In retrospect as an adult, 17 names to remember seems manageable, but as a child, that number was downright daunting.
“Here, Kara. Give this to Auntie X.”
Occupied with passing out presents, my mom was too busy to notice her four-year-old daughter standing there with a blank expression, racking her brain with the question: “Now, which one is Auntie X?”
Thankfully, my secret was never revealed (until now) and I always escaped this pitfall of having a very big family by slyly asking around, “Have you seen Auntie X?” and quietly following a pointed finger.
Whether your own family is big or small, we’ve got plenty of options for gearing up this holiday season. Beijing Playhouse presents a special Christmas-themed production of Cinderella and three Beijing families share their plans for Christmas and Hannukah. If you’re looking for festive gear and winter activities, check out our guide to finding everything under the Christmas moon. Finally, take heart in our feature about how to lend a helping hand to Beijing’s local children’s charities.
We may have lost loved ones since Ngan Ngan’s humble Christmas get-togethers, but our gains have been great and our original 21 continues to grow. Regrettably, I will not make the big Chin Christmas dinner this year, but maybe I can valiantly replicate the sentiment of the holiday by hosting at least 20 Beijinger friends in my itsy bitsy one-bedroom apartment. Might I suggest we wear nametags though?