What does Christmas mean to me? This question popped into my mind on Christmas because I was exchanging stories and memories with friends about our Christmas traditions at home.
Unlike other American kids, I didn’t grow-up knowing about Christmas, because I lived in China for the crucial Santa-相信 years of 3 to 7. By the time I got to America, the “Santa Claus is not real” was a foregone conclusion that my parents made symbolic attempts at disguising by writing “From Santa” on my presents in my Mom’s handwriting. I never had the habit of waking up crazy early Christmas morning because I couldn’t wait to tear into my presents. I don’t think I knew what the other kids were talking about or why we got off from school (at that time I could barely speak English).
And Christmas in my household wasn’t the “traditional” Christmas some kids may have grown up with. Take food for instance. In 2nd grade, a week before Thanksgiving/Christmas, the school cafeteria had a Turkey Dinner special consisting of a gloppy scoop of mashed potatoes from a box, gooey brown/grey gravy, turkey flavored lunch meat slices heated to give them the effect of faintly plasticky carved turkey, and a scoop of chicken-noodle-soup flavored “stuffing”. The funny part – I never connected the word “stuffing” with the fact that people “stuff” their turkeys with it. My family had turkey at home for Thanksgiving, and sometime Christmas, but we stuffed our turkey with fried rice (the sticky kind of 啰米, not regular rice). Btw – if you’ve ever had my Dad’s fried rice stuffing, you would also never go back to bread-based stuffing.
So Christmas for me was always slightly foreign, exotic, and constructed, a confection that tasted of some candy-cinnamon flavored “America” that was heady, addictive, and capitalist. I remember distinctively my very first Christmas morning when I was seven, sitting amongst the wreckage of wrapping paper and coming down from the emotional high of intense materialist greed that accompanies present-opening binge, it hit me suddenly — an epiphany. “I GET IT!” I thought in my dazed little 7-yr old brain, “I GET WHY AMERICA IS SO AWESOME”. And that’s when, I believe in my heart of hearts, that America became synonymous with Christmas for me. I remember thinking “AMERICA IS GOING TO BE LIKE HAVING CHRISTMAS EVERYDAY!” And I never did look back….
Of course, the meaning of Christmas has evolved for me over the years. It no longer feels quite as foreign. I have, over time, built and constructed my own Christmas traditions. And I never quite appreciated how comforting the concept of Christmas has become to me until I had to spend it away from home this year. Thankfully Beijing is full of wonderful friends who are keen on creating/re-creating our own little Holiday traditions, with Chinese characteristics. Christmas Eve was spent drinking egg nog and watching feel-good Christmas movies (Elf/White Christmas) in a massive blanket-fort/sleepover @Wayne’s place. Christmas Day was spent @ Mitch’s watching feel-naughty Christmas movies (Bad Santa/Die Hard) and making guacamole (what looks like Christmas and tastes of Mexican crack?)
If this year has taught me about anything about Christmas, is that Christmas is defined by the people you spend it with. In the past, I spent Christmas with my family. This Christmas, I spent it in Beijing with friends, both new and old. Next year and the years from then on, my Christmases will be spent with Luke as we start our new life together and establish our own traditions.
So 祝你圣诞节快乐 and I hope that you are enjoying it with the people you have chosen to spend it with this year.