A Chinese Christmas Story – Part 2

Tim Ulmer, a former staffer for Illinois House Republicans (where I met him) taught English in China for a year.

He has written a book on the experience, which is not yet published.

McHenry County Blog is going to serialize the chapter on his experience at Christmas.

Here is the next installment:

A Chinese Christmas Carol, continued

Most Chinese were perplexed about why Christmas would be so important to so many people around the world.

From the second half of November, my own curiosity raised as to why I’d be seeing the same three cheap cardboard placards taped to store windows by the thousands:

  • one just said “Merry Christmas”
  • another was identical to the Santa Claus that had been in my kindergarten classroom
  • a giant snowflake

“Extravagant” store fronts had cheap lightbulb-candles seen on windowsills throughout America.

Tim Ulmer writes, “The first school I did, where the Xmas story took place was so cold, -24, that people have to wear their winter coats and gloves in the classroom. (It’s just south of Siberia, just west of North Korea. The picture of me with the window behind me is the class that my story was about, but this is my first month there.”

Someone teased me that, of course China would promote Christmas as much as anywhere else, since its economy stood to gain the most from it.

Speakers were mounted on at least two of the light poles at every street corner, and I never got around to asking what their purpose was.

At the time, those speakers were the loudest thing on the street, playing a single Christmas song non-stop, from seven o’clock in the morning until seven o’clock at night.

However atheistic the People’s Republic of China was, some government worker had picked about the most reverent of all Christmas songs to play,

Silent Night.

“These were just my favorite 5th graders at Tianmen Experimental Middle School, spring ’03. Where I went after being fired from  Northeast Normal University. Met my wife on a day off from there at another nearby city named Wuhan,” Tim Ulmer writes.

I assumed that if the Communists had to tolerate any “Chistmassy spirit” at all, their choice of music of wouldn’t be religious in respect to their past leaders—instead, songs like Santa Claus is Coming to Town, or White Christmas.

But all day long, people heard:

Glories stream from heaven afar
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia
Christ the Savior is born
Christ the savior is born!

I was pretty sure that self-serving dictators like Mao Tse Dong and Josef Stalin would have been extremely angered that their citizens would acknowledge someone other than them—especially a babe in a manger—as a “savior.”

On Christmas morning, I hummed along with the speakers on my way to teach.

The first class of the day was one of my post-graduate classes.

When students first entered my classroom, no one showed any trace of knowing that this was the Christmas morning for which their manufacturers and shippers had been preparing for.

As others arrived, their moods lightened and some started wishing me “Happy Christmas.”

I returned their kindness and told them it was “Merry Christmas” and a “Happy New Year.”

This batch was just so friendly and inquisitive that I didn’t mind working on Christmas Day.

The fact that this was my smallest class with ages closer to mine made it more enjoyable, too.

A benefit of having only twelve students was that we arranged the seats for round-table discussions, in which I participated.

= = = = =
More tomorrow.

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