Christmas spent with things old and new in China
Updated: 2011-12-20 17:11
BEIJING - Keson Tinker can't go home for Christmas in the Bahamas this year because he's busy rehearsing for galas at local TV stations for the country's lunar new year that falls in mid-January. That means it's Christmas in Shanghai - as it was last year - where he'll have a party in his home with dozens of friends.
"Christmas is a once-in-a-year get-together for my fellow Bahamians scattered all over China," said Tinker, who has stayed in the country for six years trying to sing his way to stardom and is currently attending a MBA program in a Shanghai-based university.
This is entirely different from the way Christmas is celebrated in his home country, Tinker said. "In the Bahamas, Christmas is a festival for family reunions and nobody hangs out with friends."
Homemade Bahamian-style food will be served at the party, but turkey, usually imported to China, is too expensive and will be replaced by ordinary chicken wings and chicken soup, Tinker said.
"But we'll definitely have lemonade and a lot of fruit, as we traditionally do back in the Bahamas," Tinker said.
They will also play dice and some Chinese poker games to add to the fun, he added.
Victoria Varadi, from Hungary, has to compromise similarly as regards her Christmas menu.
Hungarians usually have fish and Bejgli, a cake roll with filling made from walnuts or raisins on Christmas Eve, said Varadi, who has stayed in Beijing for three years pursuing stardom mainly by singing Chinese songs and hosting shows in Chinese.
But a Hungarian meal won't happen this year due to her tight schedule of performances and rehearsals that's made it very difficult to plan any Christmas activity.
Varadi feels happy, though, because she's getting more work as a performer, she said, and the many invitations to appear on shows are "the best proof that my efforts have paid off."
In fact, work is the theme on Christmas for most foreigners in China. In a country where Christmas is not part of its tradition, taking days off and setting work aside is actually a luxury that one is lucky to have.
Although Christmas falls on a weekend, Ray Gergen, a 20-plus year old from the United States and a college teacher in Shanxi province, has much work awaiting her. But at least she has a party with her students to look forward to.
Last year, Gergen spent Christmas in China for the first time, and she received apples from her students as Christmas gifts.
In Chinese, the word for apple sounds like "fruit of safety," so it's believed to bring good luck. "This is a practice we don't have in the United States," Gergen said.
Something remains missed
As much pleasure as foreign people now in China might take in a novel way of celebrating Christmas, there's plenty they miss.
Tinker misses the "Junkanoo", a street parade featuring music and dance that sweeps the Bahamas every Boxing Day.
"I used to put on traditional Bahamian costumes and dance along the street," Tinker said. "But now I can only watch it live on the Internet."
American Martin Cityzen misses the Christian church in his hometown.
"It doesn't feel the same in churches here as in those back home," Cityzen said. This year, he has decided not to go to church on Christmas Day.
Varadi misses opening gifts from under the Christmas tree in her house.
But what all of them miss in common is their families.
Martin McHugh, from Ireland, has been in China for half a year, and it will be his first Christmas in China.
"On Christmas Day, I will call my kids, send them some money as gifts, and then have a good rest," the 54-year-old teacher said.