For years, Christmas annoyed me. The incessant carols piping out of shops, the enforced gift-buying and commercialism that left everyone broke by January, the unspoken familial stresses resulting in strained smiles and sloppy, drunken dinner parties – what was there to like? Except for the great feasting and the time off work, I found the holidays to be draining at best.
Then I moved to China.
I never knew how much affection for Christmas melodies lay dormant in me until I couldn’t hear them anywhere. I found myself shyly downloading classics like Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” and playing them on repeat. I would never have predicted insisting to my Chinese husband that we eat mashed potatoes for my first Christmas in China, hang stockings our second, and decorate a mini-Christmas tree our third – all while listening to those same Christmas carols. I declared these activities mandatory.
This is what I’ve become: the Christmas enforcer.
Since having a child in 2012, Christmas has taken on yet another dimension. We may be raising Echo in Beijing but “her Canadian cultural half must be acknowledged,” I proclaimed to my husband and in-laws (probably a little too emphatically).
But you see, my insistence is a cover-up. The truth is, I’m not quite sure what I want this holiday to mean. As the only Western parent, I have to make decisions about how our family celebrates Christmas – and fast. At nearly 2, our daughter is already excitedly pointing out stars, angels, and Santa’s maomao (hat) whenever she spots him in her few holiday storybooks. However, these elements only make up the holiday’s symbolism. Alone, do I have the power to conjure up the magic that comes with Christmas – a magic I knew as a child? Especially without the help of a larger surrounding culture?
I’m not sure I do. Another thing I’ve realized since becoming a mother is just how much work Christmas can be. There are cookies to bake, a big meal to plan, gifts to purchase for my little girl (then wrap up and put under the tree), stockings to hang for the whole family, stocking stuffers to collect, music to procure and blast from speakers as often as possible, singing and teaching Echo the lyrics to Christmas music – the list is endless. Is it worth the effort, especially when I’m the only parent invested in its results?
The answer is “yes.”
This year, our family is lucky to be back Canada for the holidays. I’m looking forward to being in a part of the world that will stand still on December 25 rather than continue to bustle around us. Living in Beijing for the past five years, I’ve missed that feeling.
And this year, Christmas will be more special than usual: December 25 is my son’s due date. We’re hoping he’ll be either mercifully early or late for the sake of future birthday parties, but if he’s on time, I’ll put a bow on him and present him to my family as a very special Christmas gift that took nine months to make. Fittingly, Echo’s Christmas education will begin with the birth of a child.
But if he’s late, I’ll have to rally family and friends to roll out the cookie dough because big-bellied Christmas enforcers are notoriously slow-moving and under-motivated. How ironic that I’ve considered ordering Chinese take-out to save me from cooking!
illustration by Sun Zheng
This article originally appeared on p53 of the beijingkids December 2013 issue.
Check out the PDF version online at Issuu.com