Christmas Season in China

Happy Holidays - Store window

Christmas in China is different from our regular holiday in St. Louis  at my sister’s, with lots of nieces and nephews and other great family members roasting marshmallows in front of the fireplace or on Maui in the sunshine at the beach with friends.

Christmas Day - view from our bedroom window

Here in Lin’an, China, Christmas Day started with us looking outside to see a dusting of snow over all the trees and bushes.

Christmas morning

Barry made coffee from our special Kona stash that we had brought with us.  Then we prepared for our Christmas Day feast by cleaning, cooking, and shopping since the foreign teachers came to our apartment to share a potluck meal.  Morten had been cooking since the day before a traditional Danish holiday meal of pork roast, caramelized potatoes, and a special dessert that within all the whipped cream was only one completely whole almond.

Christmas feast

The one to find the whole almond (and not swallow or break it)  was to get a special present.  We had to quit eating before anyone found it although we tried our best.  Becky and Ryan brought their terrific mashed potatoes and homemade pumpkin pie; Mark brought us chocolate chip walnut cookies and macaroni and cheese; Sarah Jane – cheese tostados and quesadillas. Barry and I served several side dishes.

Becky read a hysterical play that her students had written with their teachers (us) as characters.

Rose, Becky reading the students' play, Morten, & Mark

Drew, Sarah Jane, and Xiao gou in her new Christmas coat

Santa Barry put together a grab bag of presents.

Head massagers, cards, tea cups . . .: Mark, Sarah Jane, & Becky

Barry and Ryan (with his favorite Andrea Bocelli Christmas CD)

We all had plenty to eat and got to talk, laugh, and have fun.

Rose and Xiao gou (little dog)

Then about six pm, we all ran across the street to the school theater to see the School of Foreign Languages Christmas show.  Many of our students were in the performances, which they had been working on for two months.

Ben and other sophomore students

A play: "The Giving Tree"


Ethnic minority dances

Japanese dances


Sophomore girls


Teachers in the fashion show. How did we get out of this?

The show was fun and made a nice finish to our Christmas Day.

The day after Christmas for us was Christmas Day in the U.S., and  we spent over three hours talking to friends and family.  Because we use Skype, we got to see many of them including our great nieces and nephews who sang Jingle Bells to us.

Jennie- my niece

More nieces and nephews on Skype:

Front-Elle, Brianna, Bella, Leigha;  Back-Cole, Piper Lynn, and Dale

That night we went to Becky and Ryan’s  book release party–the world premiere- for their second book, The Fuzzy Philosopher. We heard their story of how they’ve come to write and illustrate their books and got to see the video that they did with their students here to promote it.

Ryan and Becky showing their Moo-Cow magazines

Book release video: front -Lydia, Elaine, Sharon, back- Daisy & Aries

A book that is both "funny and smart" for 9-12 year olds (I like it too) by Becky Ances and Ryan Wilson

As Socrates, John won "funniest" category

Book signing

Becky and Ryan’s message is to pursue your interests–not to give up in the face of difficulties.  They will be flying back to New Hampshire over the school break and will do book signings there.  Ask for their books in your favorite store.   It’s not too late to get another Christmas present for a favorite child in your life (and you could read it too).

And back to our Christmas focus, what about the religious part of Christmas?  The government of China separates church and state.    However according to an NPR report I heard while I was still on Maui, there are more Christians in China than there are Communist Party members.  It is actually hard to join the Party—and in principle only the best and brightest get in.

We miss Johnny, our friends, and family, but overall we’ve had a great time throughout this holiday season.   And although we haven’t been to any church, we have seen Christmas trees, heard Christmas songs, and when we went to our favorite restaurant here for Christmas Eve dinner, they were serving only western food like steak, pizzas, and hamburgers to celebrate the holiday.

This whole holiday season began about two weeks ago.  To get ready for the holiday, we bought red, green, and silver garlands and a kind of glittery “palm tree” that I hung from the living room ceiling. The dean’s family from our apartment had  left a little Christmas tree decorated by their 5-year-old son, so I brought that out, and we hung  a string of lights, so our apartment took on a feel of Christmas.

Christmas decorations

Many of the students offered us Christmas wishes; some gave us presents: tea, which is grown here and is very valued,  and red apples that signify a peaceful and good year ahead.

Christmas actually started for me on December 15.   The fall has been beautiful with the changing leaves and crisp walking temperatures.  But on that Wednesday morning when I stepped out on our balcony to hang out a few pieces of laundry, I thought I felt raindrops—but no, they were snow flakes, little light ones!  I bundled up and rode my bike to class.  At the end of those two hours, the ground was covered.

It’s snowing!  It’s snowing!!

For some of the students, those from the south of China, it was the first time they had seen snow.  Everyone was throwing snowballs and running around to play in the snow.

Students ran around throwing snowballs at their friends.

I had a night class on Wednesday too, and I worried about how slippery it would be with me riding my bike, but I made it.  Thursday, I again had an 8am class and woke to the sound of lots of crunching–like small stones being thrown together by the waves right at the shoreline, but no, it was passing cars riding over the icy road in front of our apartment.  On my bike, I made smaller crunching sounds all the way to class as my wheels broke up the ice. Everything was covered in about two inches of snow, and with the many trees and bushes here on campus, it did look like a winter wonderland.

Snow on bushes

Two hours later, although students were still throwing snowballs (and one student brought me a snowball present), and a few had made snowmen, when I left that class, the sun was out and the trees were “raining” clumps of melting snow.

Ryan and his snowball present -- that he may have forgotten in his pocket

Snowman and snowchild near our apartment

By the following Sunday, I could find only a few clumps of dirty snow left.  While it lasted, it was beautiful and a novelty for us.

Winter wonderland

As part of the holiday season, we’ve also gotten to enjoy performances and events.  Many students are very talented.  The following photos are from the freshman variety show that we saw about a week ago.

Singing and dancing


Ethnic minority dance--she has four cups on her head


The ZAFU International Office gave foreign teachers and foreign students a party on Dec. 23.  We had plenty to eat, sang (to mixed reviews) Jingle Bells, and watched others perform.

Students from the Ukraine

Our holiday break isn’t until January when the school closes for the coldest part of the winter. However, I’ve started giving final exams.  Last Tuesday was the most intense when I gave about 90 individual one-on-one finals (and taught a two-hour class).  I have about 240 students all together and will test the last 60 this coming week.   On January 11, we leave here for Bali during the Winter Festival break  at the school.  We return at the end of February for the beginning of the spring term when the weather should be warming up.

We miss you and look forward to when we see you again.  In the meantime, you could Skype us at <barrytkristel>; just download the free program and then call us.  It would be wonderful to talk to you.  We wish you a very Merry Christmas and health, happiness, and best wishes for the coming year.  Aloha, Barry and Renée


About reneeriley

Our blog was begun as a way to share our experiences in China. From August 2010 to July 2011, my husband, Barry Kristel, and I were at our University of Hawaii Maui College sister school, Zhejiang Agriculture and Forestry University in Lin'an, China, a city considered rural because it has only 500,000 people! We had a wonderful time. Then in February 2012, we returned to teach this time at our other sister school, Shanghai Normal University, in a city of over 21 million people. We've made many discoveries. Did you know that now Chinese girls, at least the ones who go to university, for the most part feel they are luckier than the Chinese boys? Did you know that Shanghai saved over 20,000 European Jews during WWII? Do you know how Chinese university students would deal with problems that come up in Dear Abby letters? What's it like to be on the Great Wall of China? Do you know how many Chinese girls had their feet bound and why? And we have recipes from many of the places we've visited. Among others, you can find instructions on how to fry cicadas from one of my ZAFU students and how to make chocolate-Kahlua waffles from my brother Mike in Gainesville. You can also look back to our earliest entry to see what we experienced in Oaxaca, Mexico, in 2006 during the mainly peaceful six months of protest until the Mexican government sent in the troops. Between our stays in China, Barry and I have been on the Mainland U.S. visiting family, friends and Servas hosts as we traveled home to Maui. We share those experiences too. Welcome to our blog! Aloha and Zài Jiàn, Renée and Barry

2 responses to “Christmas Season in China”

  1. Carol White says :

    Thanks for the update and photos. ENJOY your time in Bali………….Carol

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