ESL Life Abroad - Crystal Powell
My First Christmas in the U.S.A.
We just embraced 2013 a week ago and Chinese traditional
Spring Festival will arrive soon. I bet most of you are counting on it. Similarly, western countries celebrate Christmas as probably one of the biggest holidays. Speaking of Christmas, when you think of it, what do you think of? You probably will say Christmas trees, Santa Claus, Jingle Bells, Christmas stockings, Christmas lights, and, most of all, gift exchange. Trust me, sometimes Christmas shopping can be tricky. In China, for most people unless you are religious, Christmas means commercial: big sales in shopping malls. People have one more excuse to go shopping and have parties with friends.
Fortunately, I celebrated my Christmas in America this time. To be exact, it was last December 25th in 2012. What I have experienced here tells me Christmas means a lot more than just shopping for discounted products. It is about family and sharing. For most families in America, family members don’t live close to each other. They might work and live in different cities or even different states. For Christmas, all people have roughly one to two weeks off for vacation. During this time, people travel across the country to get back to their family. That is also the reason for bad traffic during the first couple of days of the holiday and the last couple of days. For my American family, my husband’s brother, Ryan, had to drive five hours to Nashville to be with us. That was a long way to travel. We all went to the family cabin in the mountains. Everyone had such a good time. I invited two of my Chinese friends to Nashville to celebrate the holiday with us. I felt so happy to be with my family and my friends. We cooked Christmas dinner and played board games. Here are some of the things we did for the Christmas.
Decorating Christmas tree :
Christmas decorating is a big thing here in America. I talked a little bit about this in my previous column. People put on Christmas wreaths on their front doors and Christmas lights all over the houses, windows, and yards. Therefore, it is worth it to drive around the neighborhood at night to compare each house’s decorations. The whole community brightens up due to the colorful lights. Some people also display lawn decorations, such as Santa Claus and reindeer.
Among all of these, a Christmas tree would be the center piece inside of the house. According to people’s interests, artificial Christmas trees and real Christmas trees are both available. Artificial trees are normally cheaper and easy to store. They can
be reused year after year and stay green forever. Meanwhile, some people believe real trees are more Christmas authentic and the trees smell great in the house. However, they won’t last long and they need a lot of water. In order to experience the “real” Christmas, we bought a small, pre-cut evergreen tree from a market. If you want, you can also go to a farm to cut down your own tree and saw it by yourself. In this way, you can fulfill your Christmas spirit better, I guess. When we went to the market, there were tons of Christmas trees of different sizes varying from one meter (3 ft.) to five or six meters (16 ft. or 19 ft). My husband told me there were even taller ones. Can you believe that? In the end, we purchased a tree about 2 meters tall. It is as tall as my husband.
There is an order to decorating a Christmas tree. Here is how we do it. First, you hang the Christmas lights around it from the bottom up. The lights have to be evenly placed. Depending on how you like it, you can add more lights to increase the density. Second, you hang Christmas ornaments on the branches. Also, you don’t want to put most of them around one spot. For me and my husband, besides the normal Christmas ornaments, we decided to buy one new ornament every year to be able to remember each Christmas when we are older. This time, I got myself an ornament with “the home of brave” on it and my husband got a Santa Claus with a Hawaiian shirt and small guitar. It looked like he was on vacation! Last but not least, you put a star on the very top of the tree to finish decorating. Voila, there is the Christmas tree. I love our tree so much!
Preparing the Christmas meal:
Like the prior holiday, Thanksgiving, Christmas also means
a big feast. People traditionally have ham and turkey on their holiday table. In the old times, when only raw ham was available, people baked it. Baked turkey is also a must. For some places, people also eat roast beef. Yummy! However, like Spring Festival in China, some people don't cook the whole day and just have a twenty-minute meal. Instead, precooked ham and turkey are available in almost every food store. You just need to toss the meat in the oven for a time, maybe two and a half hours. Your Christmas meal will be ready. It is common for people here to eat the holiday leftovers for the following week, such as, fried ham, ham and noodles, and ham sandwiches. Trust me, you won’t appreciate the ham the way you appreciate it before the holiday.
Exchanging Christmas gifts:
I bet every one of you has heard of the story about Santa Claus. He climbs down the chimney at night and secretly puts Christmas gifts under the tree. In this case, I guess you have to have a tree then. The next morning, when you wake up, your gifts will be there for you. But, realistically, how busy would Santa be if he was real? Instead, family members will quietly hide gifts when everyone falls asleep. My husband and I got up at one o’clock in the morning to place the gifts under our tree. It was so exciting! We were like kids. Most kids are too excited about their gifts to fall asleep on Christmas Eve. After a few hours, everyone got up in their pajamas. We circled around the tree and were eager to find out what our gifts were. In the end, my husband and I got a juicer, a hotpot pot, and a gift card. They are just what we need! Yay!
Now both Christmas and New Year's have past. What am I looking forward to next? Chinese Spring Festival. For this, I will travel back home and visit family and friends. It will be another holiday about sharing. I can’t wait!