Okay, so I’ve been a bit of a grump this Christmas. Is is possible to be a Grinch in reverse? Not sickened by all of the excessive Christmas cheer, but bitter about the lack of it?
This is the beautiful seven foot Christmas tree that we usually have brightening our apartment and filling it with holiday cheer. This is what we have this year:
That’s an old picture of it, of course. You didn’t actually think I could keep a poinsettia alive until Christmas day, did you? By this time, it’s barely managing to grip onto life, and most of the leaves have turned black and shriveled….just like my Christmas spirit.
China is trying its best to have a little Christmas. We see little tiny Christmas trees here and there, garland hanging in stores, cardboard posters of Santa hanging in the windows, occasionally captioned with “Mery Crismass!” in all its Chinglish glory. But it’s nothing compared to the BIG Christmas going on back at home. I’m used to be bombarded with Christmas from Halloween until New Year’s. This year, Christmas seems to have come all too fast with very little hoopla, considering most of the stores in Huzhou have just put up decorations this week. I’ve been listening to Christmas radio online, and I happened to hear the song “Blue Christmas” sung by Elvis, which usually makes me want to jam cotton balls into my ears and run from the room. But this time I actually sat and listened to it because I realized, this will probably be the only time I hear this song this year (as opposed to the usual forty-seven times a year). If I’m getting a bit sentimental over Elvis, who I really don’t care for, you can imagine my reaction to Christmas songs I actually do like. Justin arrived home from class the other day to find me crying in the office, as the words of the song I was listening to had really stuck a nerve: “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.”
I’m also really missing this little guy, who is staying back in the States with some friends. He always gets more excited about the arrival of the Christmas tree in our living room than anyone else! He immensely enjoys stretching out on the tree skirt and gazing up at the braches filled with ornaments and blinking lights, occasionally batting at them with his paws. Christmas isn’t the same without the Fonz…
I’ve been trying to remedy the lack of Christmas by teaching my students and our Chinese friends all about it. They know what Santa looks like (the fat man who wears red pants!), they know about Christmas trees and giving gifts, and they all inexplicably know how to sing “Jingle Bells.” In fact, when I mentioned Christmas songs in one of my classes, all of the students spontaneously broke into a chorus of “Jingle Bells” (they don’t actually know the verses, just the chorus). When they were finished, they struggled to think of another English song to sing and finally began “Oh My Darlin’ Clementine” followed by a rousing chorus of “Happy Birthday.” Where are they learning these songs? I filled them in on more of the details of Christmas, which I’m not sure they quite understood or liked. The idea of a fat man sneaking into a house through the chimney while everyone is sleeping does seem quite alarming when you consider it from an outsider’s perspective. I had them watch the Burl Ive’s 1964 version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, one of my favorites. I just love the characters and the songs; I’ve been watching it every year since my childhood. However, the Chinese students didn’t feel quite as sentimental about it. In fact, they looked a bit bewildered about the flying reindeer and the elves, and didn’t understand why an adult such as myself would be interested in watching a fantasy movie. “Is this what Christmas is really all about?” one student wondered aloud. Of course there’s much more to Christmas than just that, but the incredulity in his voice made me so mad that my little bit of Christmas cheer was shattered, and I turned right back into the Grinch. Who are they to judge? Chinese students get sentimental over completely ridiculous things, like squid tentacle soup. “Oh, my mother always makes this for me whenever I’m not feeling well….she knows it’s my favorite. I miss her so much!” they’ll say, with glistening eyes. Oh sure! You can get all dreamy-eyed over squid tentacles, but you have no sentiment to spare for Christmas? Come on!
I was feeling very Grinchly for the next several days after that. It all came to a head one Tuesday afternoon, when I was teaching my worst-behaved class of the day. They were going up to the front of the room to do oral presentations one by one, but the students who remained seated just couldn’t seem to manage staying quiet. I couldn’t even hear what the presenters were saying. I kept having to pace the room, giving people dirty looks, yelling “ān jìng!” (be quiet), and deducting points from students’ grades for multiple offenses. Class was almost over, and we’d only gotten though half of the presentations. Next week was supposed to be a lesson on Christmas, but we were going to have to finish our presentations first. There was only one thing left to do, and I think the rest of the story is best expressed in the form of a Dr. Seuss-style poem:
“That’s it!” I shouted. “I’ve had quite enough!”
I ran to the front of the room in a huff
The students all silenced to hear what came next
My dire announcement only a Grinch could have guessed
“Christmas is cancelled!” I said with a shout
“You don’t deserve to learn what it’s all about!”
I expected some frowning and even possibly some tears
After all, a cancelled Christmas must be pretty hard to hear
Instead, when our class finally came to an end
The students stopped by my desk, eager to send
Their holiday wishes to me, with cards and packages too
“Merry Christmas, teacher,” they said, “Good luck the whole year through!”
My eyes brimmed with tears, and my heart filled with regret
To see the warmth of the students I had treated with neglect
I gazed at my desk, with a mound of packages so tall
I thought, “Perhaps they know what Christmas is about after all!”
From that moment forward, the ice melted from my heart
And I decided to give Christmas cheer a brand new start
I organized a gift exchange, made plans for festive fun
I wore a Santa hat to class, bought gifts for everyone
I told my students the story of baby Jesus and his birth
I shared with them the gift he gave of immeasurable worth
One day after this lesson a student approached me after class
He said, “Thank you teacher. I know what Christmas means at last!”
I realized Christmas should never be stolen or undone
Christmas is a gift that should be shared with everyone!