Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Red Christmas

Haze paints Zhongshan with a soft brush as I drive Annie to her Kindergarten. I’m trying to figure out how I can ignite the magic of Christmas within her four-year-old heart. In the past three Christmas’s I put up a tree, placed presents underneath and lights around it. I’ve played Christmas music and tried to stoke the Santa surprise, but you know what? It’s never caught on.

It could be the isolation factor. None of her classmates understand or properly observe the holiday. Even within our nuclear family there is a great deal of nonchalance and “ Let’s humor Daddy” as I struggle to implant warm fuzzies in our future generation. Yesterday while on the cell with my wife I asked her if she’d pick up some wrapping paper for the gifts I bought. We finally gave up the conversation as she just could not determine what the hell I was talking about. It’s a language thing and it’s a cultural thing. The Chinese cannot fathom the purpose for wrapping gifts. “Why not simply put it in a bag or just put it under the tree as it is,” She’d asked. How can I explain the anticipation? How can I successfully transplant my culture on this very special holiday?

Around town and in our community blinking Christmas lights are going up in window fronts and store displays. The businesses would love to see the consumer frenzy the Western world is so familiar with. However, ask anyone if they have a tree, or if they have been naughty or nice, and you get a blank look. Every year after Christmas I’d ask my students the same question; what did Santa bring you? Apparently, Santa passes China up because if I ever do get an answer, it's about a red envelope with x amount of cash inside.

Now please don’t misunderstand me, I am not supporting the shopping madness with all its pressures and repercussions as we see so frequently in the West, I only suggest the warmth and glow that comes from giving and not expecting in return. The gifts matter very little. What matters is the joy, the twinkle, not of Christmas lights but of a child's delight. The exciting, breathless moment when a colorful box is placed in your lap and it’s all yours, and you got it just for being a good girl and daddy and mommy are watching and so is little sister and oh the sound of paper tearing and the building of anticipation as paper flies out and something new flies in. This is Christmas, this is a memory that builds confidence and the ability to share and love and be loved.

And this is what I am trying to create this morning as I drop off Annie and head off to find colorful wrapping paper. My wife tells me not to worry about buying her a gift, her parents haven’t a clue as to the holiday, but I know better. I will buy my wife a gift, her parents too. Come Christmas morning, they will, for an instant at least, feel some of the magic when that something special is placed in their lap. I will play Christmas music. I will light up our living room in reds and greens. I will put the girls to bed early on Christmas Eve, and I will wake them early on Christmas morning. We will sit around the tree, wiping sleep from our eyes and looking in wonder at the magic tree that the night before held only a few present but now is completely surrounded by boxes and packages and baskets and are those socks on the wall? No I’ll explain, they are stockings, have a look girls. And they will hop up and run to the stockings and pour out candy and fruit and tiny toys and there will be shrieks of joy from both and my heart will know again the feeling of completed circles.

It’s Christmas time in China and in my house, it will catch on.


  1. Dan, you are a great father trying the impossible. I hope that somehow, just the knowledge of your deep love for your family will shine through. After all, that is all that is important, right?

  2. Dan,
    Thanks for your great Christmas story. You make me proud to be your Dad. Your little family will thrive in their dual culture, just so glad Mom & I were able to give you and your siblings the good memories.
    Love you guys.

  3. Oh I have tears - I love this Dan! You are a great daddy and your girls are lucky to have you. :)

  4. Hey Dan... Great post. I couldn't imagine not recognizing the holiday as crazy as it seems at times. Keep it up. Hopefully it'll catch on... Have you tried the chestnuts like Peanuts and Rudolph??

  5. maybe you're trying to hard. maybe the magic is in all the non-gift things you spoke of, the anticipation, the spirit of giving - gifts don't have to be wrapped in packages, they can come in good deeds and acts and random kindness..they may know more about it than you think..

  6. Wow, I love it when you share bits and pieces of your life in the Chinese culture. What a good daddy and husband you are, creating magic for your children. All your women must adore you.

    I had to giggle at your wife trying to understand your use of wrapping paper. I can just see the conversation taking place. The differences in culture are amazing. Thanks so much for sharing. And I wish you the very best and merriest christmas sharing with your family.

  7. "and my heart will know again the feeling of completed circles" is such a beautiful way to convey your emotions, and not only present your culture, but also effectively fortify the traditions you hold dear. I'm sure both little girls will one day share this holiday with their own children.

    I would say more, but your story has taught me to build suspense and keep it under wraps.

  8. Wonderful story. Don't be too frustrated at how long it takes to win everyone over. Eventually they will try to convince you they see things from your perspective. My friend in Shenyang knows full well what the season means to us in the West, and though he says he doesn't celebrate in the same way, he never forgets to write and tell me what's happening there at Christmas, and always remembers to ask how I'm doing.
    Happy New Year (the Western one) to you and yours, Dan.