Nearly every year since we moved to China, we have gone back to the United States for a few weeks around Christmas. It makes December a bit hectic for us (as I wrote about in the December 2011 beijingkids) but we manage.
There was, however, one Christmas when we remained in China. It was in 2008, the year Brigid was born. We weren’t ready, either emotionally or even legally, to fly back to America with a six-week-old. My parents were able to visit us from Pennsylvania right after Christmas, so Randy and I decided that year we would stay.
There was one important aspect of Christmas, though, I was a little concerned about: I had read on blogs and news websites that services in China for Christmas often drew a lot of spectators, and that sometimes these could number in the thousands. I was worried about bringing my kids to this kind of spectacle.
We have always attended a local church for our Sunday masses. In Shenzhen we were members of St. Paul in the Nantou section of the city. I was sure that our little parish, tucked into one of the few remaining old alleys in Nantou, and hemmed in on all sides by newer development, would be too out-of-the-way for crowds of onlookers.
That night when we arrived for mass, there was an obvious police presence along the alley leading to our church’s front gate: the security bureau had been dispatched for crowd control. The narrow alley that led to our church was teeming with people, many times more than a normal Sunday.
There were hundreds pouring into the courtyard of our tiny church. Everyone I recognized had come early enough to sit in a pew. Since we hadn’t believed in the warnings we hadn’t planned as well. Our family stayed toward the back, trying to follow along despite the distractions.
As the multitudes grew around us, they turned restless during quieter parts of the unfamiliar ritual. They milled around, stopping to take another picture or answer their phone. Randy said it reminded him more of a rock festival than a religious holiday. Ever since, we referred to the experience as Mass-A-Palooza.
I was on edge the whole night, the chaos and crowds giving me an unsettled feeling, but the Chinese parishioners took it as a matter of course. Sometime after Communion, I was separated from Randy and the kids. I panicked, fearing Myles might be further pulled away from his father. I eventually found them huddled together, surrounded by a part of the audience who, possibly bored with watching the queues form for Communion, found the little foreign boy and baby so much more interesting. As I felt the chaos closing in on my kids, I declared it time to leave.
I later asked a Chinese friend why so many strangers had shown up. My friend noted that while most Chinese people may not belong to any religion, they know December 24 is the night churches have a party. It had become so common that most churches expected to draw a much larger crowd that night.
Every December I feel a little sad, observing Advent in our current parish and then dashing off for America before Christmas. Then I remember Mass-A-Palooza, and I get over it.
About the Writer:
Jennifer Ambrose hails from Western Pennsylvania and misses it terribly. She still maintains an intense devotion to the Pittsburgh Steelers. She has lived in China since 2006 and is currently an at-home mother. Wither her husband Randy and children Myles and Brigid, she resides outside Sixth Ring Road in Changping. Her blog can be found at jenambrose.blogspot.com.
Photo: courtesy of pixabay.com
This article originally appeared on page 47 of the beijingkids December 2015 issue. Click here to read the issue for free on Issuu.com. To find out how you can get your own copy, email firstname.lastname@example.org