When I lived full-time in my home country of Canada, I admit that Christmas wasn’t my favorite time of year. In fact, for years, it annoyed me. The incessant carols piped out of retail doorways as I walked along the sidewalk, the enforced gift-buying and commercialism leaving everyone broke by January, the unspoken familial stresses that resulted in strained smiles and sloppy, drunken dinner parties—what was there to like? Except for the great feast and enforced vacation time off work, I found the holidays draining at best.
Then, I moved to China.
Little did I know how much affection for carol 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 to counter my loneliness in Beijing for big holiday family gatherings that were happening back in Canada. I would never have predicted I’d find myself insisting to my Chinese husband that we eat mashed potatoes the first year that I had a “Chinese Christmas,” or that we hang up and stuff stockings for each other the second year, or that we collectively decorate a mini Christmas tree in the third year, all while listening to those same Christmas carols.
I presented the Christmas activities as mandatory. Each year, there were more that I’d forgotten to insist upon in previous years.
This is me: the Christmas enforcer.
Christmas took on a whole new dimension of importance after having a child in 2012 and another in 2013. We may be raising our kids in Beijing but their Canadian cultural half must be acknowledged! Celebrating Christmas is non-negotiable! I proclaimed these things to my husband and in-laws (probably a little too emphatically…)
The truth is, as the only Western parent, the emphasis is a cover-up for the anxiety I carry that I won’t “do it right” for my kids while they’re surrounded by a culture that doesn’t reinforce Christmas. I’ve needed to make decisions about how our family celebrates and every year I have to reassess those choices. Which traditions will I present to my kids and why? Alone, do I have the power to conjure up the twinkle that goes along with Christmas—that tingling excitement I felt as a child, especially without the help of the surrounding culture? I’m not sure that I do.
And it’s so much work! There are Christmas cookies to bake, a big meal to plan, gifts to purchase then wrap up and put under the tree, stockings to hang for the whole family, stocking stuffers to collect in advance, music to procure and blast from speakers as often as possible, singing and teaching the kids the lyrics, hanging up mistletoe, putting up wreaths and other decorations around the house… the list can be endless. Is it worth so much effort, especially when I’m the only parent invested in its result?
After some quiet reflection on these questions, I know the answer is: yes.
I’ve lived in Beijing for 9 years now. When our family is back in Canada for the holidays after repatriation, we will be part of a world that stops and stands still for December 25 rather than one that continues to bustle around us, oblivious. But until then, I will definitely expend the extra effort necessary at Christmas to help it come magically alive within our home.
And when I’m back in Canada, since it’s the other half of my kids’ culture, we’ll be celebrating Chinese New Year too, just not in a way that is reflected by our environment. Then, it will be their dad’s job to make sure it’s “done right”!
This article appeared on p49 of beijingkids December 2017 issue.