During the first year we lived in Beijing, my husband abruptly cut me off as I was talking about Christmas decorations, “Why do we need a Christmas tree?” If I were an anime character, a dramatic face plant on the floor would have been appropriate. Without the blessing of such a blatant visual cue he went on, “I mean really, what does a Christmas tree have to do with actually rejoicing over the birth of Jesus?”
Ever since we moved to China, we found ourselves in a joint cultural identity crisis. We began identifying much more often with our Chinese neighbors and friends than with our foreign coworkers. Both of us never really felt genuinely “American,” and we began to question everything we did, getting rid of old habits if the only reason we did them is because we were “American.”
Our cultural celebration of Christmas didn’t comprise part of a holy ground, not to my husband at least. So we researched other traditions and celebrations of Christmas from around the world that were centered in authentically Christian roots. We learned about the Advent season of the Orthodox and the Jesse tree, a calendar of ornaments with symbolic meanings related to verses in the Bible. Though we didn’t make a compromise per se, we did agree that the Christmas tree of my childhood nostalgia was the best background for ornaments carrying deep meaning.
Henceforth, we now have a new family tradition of celebrating Christmas by daily reading a short passage of scripture and putting on one ornament that matches that scripture, following a fusion of the Advent season and the Jesse tree calendar. When we finally reach Christmas almost thirty days later, the tree is full and beautiful, and I always want to keep it up for a week or so longer. For me, the Advent season including Christmas and Epiphany has become my favorite time of year, and oddly I have China to thank for that. Thus, proving to me at least, I don’t need to be in a country full of my common language and culture to feel at home.
To help you feel at home in Beijing for the holidays, we’ve packed this issue with lots of goodies, from shopping the Christmas bazaars to your advantage (p12) to making a lighter and more colorful version of the Yule log (p22). Dawn Davison got a makeover in time for all of the many galas and parties this season brings (p14) while Bernadette and Diedrik told us what they thought of Ernest’s French Bistro (p20). 3e International School suggested making snow globes for spending time together with your child inside (p27), and we found plenty of skiing spots when the air is nice and crisp (p25). We also asked other families to share what traditions they keep alive (p46) and rounded up some family friendly resorts in Asia for sliding across slopes or getting out of the cold (p42). Regardless of what you choose to do this season, here at beijingkids, we wish you all the happiest of memories for the holidays!
This article originally appeared on page 2 of the of beijingkids magazine’s November/ December issue. Click here for your free online copy. To find out how you can obtain a hard copy, contact email@example.com.