Christmas, holidays, less food-related, students, teaching


12.30.09 | 2 Comments

Chinese people like to compare Christmas to Spring Festival, the Lunar New Year, the Chinese Holiday of holidays. Over Spring Festival, big cities are abandoned as people go home to see their families. Even in Beijing, which is renowned for its abysmal traffic, the streets are empty. All over the country businesses close, train tickets are harder to find than good cheese, and for ten days the relentless firecrackers make it sound like a war zone.

This comparison gets problematic really fast. Most Chinese are under the assumption that Christmas is the New Year and get confused when I tell them that it isn’t. Most Chinese also don’t understand that not everybody celebrates Christmas, since everybody here celebrates Lunar New Year and cultural, not to mention religious, diversity is still a fairly abstract concept. Most people in Huzhou don’t even know what 犹太 youtai, Jewish, is.

I am in a situation to correct some of those Noel misconceptions, but I had to keep in mind Hebe’s text a few weeks ago, especially since TJ told me that we received that text right after he explained the virgin birth of the lord. Hmmm. So I left the Christ out of Christmas, making it…Mas?

Instead I told the students what we do on Christmas, where we put the presents, and who brings them. And then I told most of my classes about a nifty little tradition that lots of American boys, girls, men, and women will partake in come the yuletide: Secret Santas.

The week before Christmas, we drew Secret Santas. I also took part, not because I wanted presents, but because this year, I needed a little Christmas. I’m usually not too into it, but I guess I just can’t let go of some of the traditions I grew up with. Also, this is the kind of class activity that, I think—I hope—they’re going to remember for years when they’ve forgotten a lot of their English. I told the kids there was a 10 yuan limit on gifts, and reminded them repeatedly that secret Santas were secret.

Last Monday began the gift-giving fun. As soon as I walked into class holding a gift for my student, the students shouted, “For who? For who?”

z_m anthony angela lili simon

“You’ll just have to wait,” I teased. “First we’re going to learn English.”

z_m carrie ,

We proceeded to talk about scandals—specifically, Tiger Woods. Merry Christmas.


I gave each of my Secret Santas a little Christmas stuffed animal from Shanghai, a Cadbury chocolate bar, and a keychain from Arizona. Okay, so I went over the 10 yuan limit. But I’m allowed, I’m the teacher.

z_th2 ella grace

z_m anthony hammer

The kids all had a great time—of course they did, who doesn’t love presents instead of class?

z_m elle slippers

z_th1 samantha

z_th1 larry jelly'

In my Wednesday class, it was apparent that the boys had put in zero effort, as they plopped down crumpled candy bars or naked apples on the desks of a few poor, slightly embarrassed girls.

It was also pretty funny when the girls gave boys presents—they’d do a little shuffle/run up to his desk, plop down the plastic bag, and mutter ‘Merry Christmas’ as they shuffled/ran away and the rest of the class giggled.

z_ th1 blur1

My college students all act like they’re twelve. Maybe.

Everyone, including the teacher, was happy in class last week. My students were what I wished they’d be every week: enthusiastic, endearing, silly. I may have more kids to adopt.


At the end of the class, I asked them all to gather in the back for a group photo, both for posterity and to kill a few minutes until the bell rang. Bad teacher!

z_th2 olive

Monday Secretary:

z_m class m

Sweethearts. All of them. They make me like Mondays.

Wednesday English:

z_w classw4

Loveable goofs.

z_w class w silly

Thursday English 8 AM:

z_th1 class th1.7

This class bought me a Christmas card that was sitting on my desk when I walked in.


I spent about two minutes saying “Awwww.” This was my favorite class to begin with, but it just felt so rewarding to be appreciated. I’ve taught many classes when the room is so quiet after I’ve asked a question or assigned an activity that I’m convinced that I’m hallucinating that there are students there at all. I am never throwing this card away.

Thursday Secretary 10 AM:

z_th2 class th.2.3

z_th2 class th.2.5

This class is all girls, many of whom are hams. They make me laugh every week.


Especially one, Serena, in the middle:


To all the readers of Plate of Wander, I hope you had happy holidays, and happy New Year.

z_th2 hug1

Who knows what 2010 will bring me, but I am glad that it will include all of these students.

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