Since this was my first Christmas overseas, I was painfully aware of just how different it was being away from home. The shops were not plastered with Christmas promotions, although in the local grocery stores you could hear the sounds of Christmas music intermixed with Chinese pop music. There were a few decorations being sold, but nothing like what we would experience in the States. Just after Thanksgiving I went with a couple of friend to BinJiang Dao, (the largest shopping street in Tianjin) to look for a small Christmas tree. You would think that in a city of 11 million there would be plenty to pick from...but there were only 4! Yes, I said it...only four Christmas trees in the upstairs loft of a side street shop selling a variety of Christmas wares.
Luckily, I had thought ahead and brought some special ornaments from home to decorate my tree with. This gave me comfort, knowing that the familiarity of Christmas(es) past would still be with me. I lovingly decorated my tree with bittersweet memories of playing Kenny G Christmas music and the excitement of Ryan and Lacey as little kids, anticipating Christmas morning. I missed all the traditions of making a special Christmas Eve dinner for the family and going to a tradional candlelight service. I missed opening up one gift on Christmas Eve always knowing that there would be new PJ's for the kids to wear so they would look cute on Christmas morning when I took pictures of them opening presents. All this was lost here in China. I suppose now that Ryan and Lacey are married, I would've been going through this to some degree regardless...I mean they wouldn't be waking up at my house on Christmas morning, running downstairs in their cute new PJ's to open up gifts anyway, right? But it just seemed a little more sad not being able to spend the time with them.
I decided to go with a new friend down to Shanxi Lu, the official Chinese church for a Christmas concert that they do annually. I had no idea what I was in store for. Apparently, Christmas Eve in China is an all out party! Tens of thousands of people go to the huge shopping street and go crazy shopping! It's a free for all of shopping frenzy with everything being sold from blinking Santa hats to Madri Gras hats and Halloween masks. Only buses are allowed to run and the police are out in full force to make human barriers to hold back crowds. It's much like New Year's Eve in Times Square-Insane! Christmas Eve is also a night for couples to have an expensive dinner and go to check out the local churches to hear the concerts. It's a date night for people to enjoy, but without any real thought as to the historic or faith based reasons to celebrate the birth of Christ.
After an hour of trying to get through the traffic and battle the crowds, my friend and I finally got to Shanxi Lu. Again, the place was so packed out that there was no place to sit-so I stood...for 2 hours shoulder to head with tons of onlookers, until my legs could take no more. (I captured a bit of the spirit of the evening inside the church with a video on Youtube if you're interested-Chinachick61) I couldnt help again being sad for such beautiful songs to be sung and yet there seemed to be no real comprehension for most present of the huge significance of the One who was being sung about. I kept thinking about the thousands of insane, lost shoppers and wondering what Chairman Mao would think of this capitalistic craziness and these Christmas songs invading his communist based country. I thought of my own culture and realized how similar it is in America with so many people more worried about shopping and feeling obligated to go to a Christmas Eve service than they are about celebrating the birth of a Savior. So what is the difference? I'm not really sure I have the answer. All I know is that Christmas at home sure feels a lot better than it does here, and I wish I really could say, "I'll be home for Christmas."