Thursday, December 24, 2009

I'll Be Homesick for Christmas

Twas the night before Christmas, and throughout Beijing Review,
Not a [Chinese] soul knew it was the holiday, no one had a clue.
And yes I had my spirit, and my Coal Region Christmas cheer,
But I was stuck working, while my friends were out drinking beer
(and probably eggnog too).

That about sums up my Christmas Eve this year. Just as I wound up working on Thanksgiving, so too did I find myself in the office late Thursday reading over pages and making last minute corrections to the magazine. All the while, some of my other friends were out celebrating Christmas at bars and pubs across Beijing. I had even been invited to a church service somewhere in the city.

I should note this is my first Christmas away from home. The first Christmas I won't see my family for this momentous holiday. This first Christmas I won't go to church and sing every [single] Christmas song (minus Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer) known to man. And the first Christmas I won't be able to open gifts with my family under a proper Christmas tree. It's a lot of firsts, and not ones I'm particularly glad to be dealing with.

A week ago my parents sent me a Christmas package with all the essentials to make me feel as if I were home (sort of). Included were: a Christmas stocking, small gifts for the Christmas stocking, a small fiber-optic Christmas tree with changing colored lights, Christmas candy and Christmas cards and photos. It was a truly wonderful package.

I'll admit, in the weeks leading up to the holiday, I've been a bit anxious. A few of my Beijing friends were heading back to the States, traveling or had already left China for their home countries. It seemed like Christmas was going to be pretty bleak this year.

And then I got homesick. Not extremely homesick but enough to make me want to do Christmas things I never did back home, like go Christmas caroling or bake Christmas cookies. Or even go ice skating on a real frozen lake. Since I'd heard from friends and family that practically the entire East Coast of the United States had been blanketed in about a foot of snow, I even began to miss shoveling the welcomed, yet dreaded, white powder from the sky. Beijing is just cold and windy this time of year unless the government decides they want it to snow (long story, Google it).

But I made the best of it in the days leading up to Christmas. I went out and bought Christmas decorations (which quickly fell apart), listened to Christmas music (which only made me miss home even more) and found myself a nice Santa hat. I wore it once, looked in a mirror and decided it was too much. Plus, my facial hair was dark and scruffy, giving me more of a homeless look than the Jolly Ole Saint Nick appearance I was going for. But I had to try. Apparently, Santas don't exist in China, since I've been hard pressed to find even one miniature version of the red suit-wearing man anywhere in Beijing.

Instead of moping about the lack of true Christmas spirit in Beijing, I decided to force the Christmas spirit on my colleagues at Beijing Review. I'd tried this tactic on Halloween when I brought a jack-o-latern pail filled with sweets into work and told everyone they could only have a piece of candy if they sang a Halloween song. It was a prank but no one got the joke. For Christmas, I was able to find different flavored candy canes -- blueberry, cinnamon, watermelon, but no peppermint -- and brought them in for everyone. No singing was involved this time, but I did warn them that the blueberry canes might cause their mouths to change colors.

I also brought the Santa hat, my Christmas stocking and the small tree in as well. If I had to work on Christmas Eve, I was at least going to make my tiny cubicle look and feel like Christmas.

The rest of the day was ho-hummish. I read stories. I read pages. I read more stories. Going to my home church for the 3 hour Christmas service was starting to sound like a viable alternative to reading pages.

When everyone else in my office had left, I turned on some Christmas tunes but kept the volume low. I just wanted to enjoy the moment of peace and tranquility with Rockin Around the Christmas Tree in the background.

Beijing Review feeds the foreign experts when they keep us late -- usually a rice dish with meat and vegetables from Yoshinoya. It's never bad, but tonight I came prepared, bringing with me a brick of cheese (having been unable to find a cheese ball covered in almonds) and some weird sausage that would have to fill in for the Pepperidge Farm brand my parents always had at home. Ritz crackers were about the only part of the Christmas snack I was able to find. And so I had myself a mini-Christmas feast: cheese, weird sausage and crackers.

And before I knew it, it was time to leave. It was 11 minutes before midnight.

The cab ride home seemed to take longer than it needed to, given that there were few other cars on the road. We passed a few decorated buildings, saw a few Christmas trees and finally arrived on my side of town. I told the driver what alley to drive down and when we arrived he turned around and said "Shengdan Jie Kuai Le!" with a huge grin on his face. I looked at the clock in the cab. It was just after midnight -- Christmas.

I returned the greeting, paid the fare and got out.

"Merry Christmas," I muttered to myself, smiling as I walked to my apartment. "Merry Christmas."

Decorations from home; food that reminds me of home.

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