Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

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Margaret: 圣诞节 – Shèngdàn jié – Christmas

January 1, 2012

I am tired.  After a truly excruciating week of exams (one test had over 225 new characters), Michael and I headed to WuDaoKou last night to ring in the new year, albeit without plans or 150 RMB tickets to Nova, Beijing’s biggest New Year’s Eve party.  Before we knew it, we found ourselves in a bar surrounded by friends!  In a blur of colors, lights, drinks, and taxis, we were waltzing down the red carpet leading into Nova, housed in a giant, disused industrial gas tank.  Beijing nights…  Happy New Year!

And Merry Christmas!  Amidst all the exam and travel preparations, I haven’t been able to blog at all about my Chinese Christmas adventures, which I must say they were quite exciting!  Initially, my group of friends wanted to have Christmas Day brunch at a hotel in Beijing.  Most of the foreign hotels host lavish meal with free flowing champagne in thoroughly decked halls, so naturally they’re incredibly expensive.  At the last minute, Michael and I opted out and jumped in a cab on Christmas Eve heading to none other than IKEA.  Maybe a few years down the line when I’m a rich Beijing business professional (哈哈) I will wine and dine with Beijing’s finest at the Westin, but at the moment, you just can’t beat a 15 RMB plate of Swedish meatballs and mashed potatoes on Christmas.  We expected to see more but nonetheless spotted a few other foreigners who had had the same idea.  On the way out, we stopped by the Swedish food mart for some ginger snaps – a real treat!

Although I no longer consider myself a Christian, I was raised Catholic and have gone to church on Christmas every year since I was born.  Over the past few months I’ve been interested in attending a Catholic church here to see what it’s like in Asia but never got around to it.  What better day to go than Christmas, right?  Wrong, but I’ll get to that later.  After gallivanting around IKEA for an hour or so after dinner, it was still several hours away from the 11 o’clock midnight mass.  We headed to the church via subway but got off one stop early at Xidan, a popular commercial area in Beijing that I had just done Christmas shopping at the night before.  The square was full of young people laughing, holding hands, and, funnily enough, wishing others a Merry Christmas.  

The trees were beautifully decorated in gold Christmas lights, and a section of the square had actually been fenced off and lined with hundreds of thousands of white lights, giving the illusion of snow.  We spotted a Santa promoting a nearby blood bank, so naturally I made Michael pose for a photo!  It was a lovely evening, and the joy of the holiday could literally be felt in the air.  A young man approached us to sell us apples wrapped in brightly colored tissue paper.  Earlier in the day I had gone to WuDaoKou to do some last minute Christmas shopping.  Around every corner, vendors could be found selling Christmas hats, cakes, and even Santa suits, but by far the most commonly sold items were apples and oranges.  I bought a huge orange in an elaborate pink Christmas box and asked the girl why Chinese people eat apples and oranges on Christmas.  She said it’s because the word for “apple,” 平果, has the same character as the word for “peace,” 平安.  This struck me as beautiful, and when I peeled into my orange, I reminisced nostalgically about Christmas mornings past when my brothers and I would run downstairs to our stockings to find big apples or giant oranges placed there by my mother, who had done so just like her mother before her.

Finally it was time to head to church.  Beijing has four major Catholic churches: a north church, south church, east church, and west church.  I chose the south church, the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception for midnight mass even though it was perhaps the farthest from IKEA.  The foundation of the original cathedral was laid in 1605, making it the oldest church in Beijing, but the current building dates back to 1904.  I chose this church because the present archbishop, Joseph Li Shan, was presiding.  Interestingly, he is one of only a few bishops recognized fully by both the Vatican and the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Church.

When we exited the subway station, we entered into the church’s pseudo front yard.  We immediately encountered long tables lined full of creche figurines and framed holographic pictures of Mary and Jesus that were being sold.  People were everywhere, and we were hassled into a line by men with megaphones.  I asked a woman behind me what the line was for, and she responded, “圣诞节礼物!”  Christmas gifts.  Umm what?  Red candles in the shape of apples were shoved into our hands before we were quickly shuttled off.  It was absurd but nonetheless a heartwarming surprise.

We finally arrived in front of the church, but when we tried to enter, another megaphone blared in our ears telling us to get in line.  And then we saw it.  A line a mile long!  We started walking.  And walking and walking and walking.  More men with megaphones kept yelling something about having a 票, a ticket.  My heart sank as I looked down the line at the green tickets in everyone’s mitts.  I had read something on the internet about how church goers were required to buy tickets for midnight mass in 2004, a policy met with outrage that was subsequently revoked.  Eventually I decided to stop walking and ask someone in line how we could buy a ticket.  The magic of the evening was truly heavy the air that night because I somehow managed to stop and ask probably two of the only people in line with extra tickets.  I grappled with my language as I tried to express my delight for their graciousness, eventually blurted out “Merry Christmas” as Michael and I headed away to the end of the line.

While we were waiting, a couple in line in front of us turned around and asked in broken English, “What will happen inside?  Will we eat?”  Umm no?  I quickly discovered that the large majority of the people who had come to attend mass were not only not Christian, but they had no idea what Christmas was.  They were simply curious and had heard that you were supposed to go to church at midnight on Christmas Eve.  This little gem of Chinese culture drove me crazy when our section of the line finally arrived at the doors of the church and they stopped letting people in.  Michael and I were confined to a jam packed square out front of the church.  Two huge television screens showed the happenings inside, and familiar carols sung in Chinese spilled out the wide open doors.  As we waited for mass to begin, none other than Santa came tearing up the aisles of the church, tossing candy into the crowd.  How Catholic, am I right?

The only good part about standing outside in the freezing cold in poorly selected tights and pumps was that the procession came right through us.  People all around us were pushing and shoving to get a glimpse of the action.  Amidst the chaos, archbishop Li Shan looked simply at peace.

Right after mass began, we left.  It was simply too cold to be standing out there any longer, and the mass was entirely in Chinese save for an “amen” here an there.  It would have been cool to hear it though.  On Christmas day we headed to the east church for an English mass, and I was surprised that I still knew almost the entire mass word for word.  It would have been very easy to follow along.  In the cab on the way back to Zhongguanxinyuan, Michael and I agreed to open one Christmas present each.  We both outdid ourselves and had a plethora of wrapped gifts under my six inch Carrefour Christmas tree.  My gifts consisted entirely of chocolate, as I had requested.  We fell asleep watching “Miracle on 34th Street,” a tradition my family usually practices on Thanksgiving, although I had had exams the Friday after this year.

The next morning, Michael and I were joined by two of our friends, Megan and Angus, for a delicious breakfast of pancakes, sausages, home fries, scrambled eggs, and hot chocolate before heading to the east church via cab.  We arrived about fifteen minutes before mass was scheduled to begin, and we joined the mob of about fifty or so foreigners and Chinese outside the locked front doors. We waited and waited and waited.  All of asudden it was 4:00, and then 4:15, and then 4:20.  Finally someone came around and said the side door was open.  Michael and I and a few others ventured over and went in.  To our surprise and frustration, mass was already thoroughly underway with about eight hundred people already in attendance.  We stood in the back.  The mass was exactly the same as a Christmas mass in Minnesota.  The songs, the prayers, the giving of people, all the same.  The only difference was the old white minister stopped and asked in truly the worst Chinese I’ve ever heard for more volunteers to help administer communion.  It was pathetic…

Michael and I had dinner at Subway (our favorite!) after trying and failing to locate a quality Chinese restaurant in a nearby new glitzy shopping mall on Wangfujing.  After a stop in the foreign bookstore, we strolled up and down the decorated street of Wangfujing, veering off down the snack street before heading home.  We passed on the star fish.

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Whitney: Christmas in France

December 31, 2011

Oh dear. My life has rocked for the past week and a half, and I think it would take me a few hours to write about everything, so I’ll do my best to highlight the most exciting parts.

First, FRANCE! My first time flying with Easyjet went surprisingly well. My bag was the appropriate size and I found a seat quickly and easily (they don’t assign seats), and when I arrived at the Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg airport I found Emilie, her mom, and her dog Velcro waiting for me! I was welcomed into their home with open arms and I cannot thank them enough for everything they did for me. Emilie showed me around Strasbourg and Obernai, taught me a few French words and phrases, and we spent some time with some of her friends. We also took a trip to the convent of St. Odile to get a beautiful view of the city – you could see all the way to Germany in the very far distance! Christmas Eve and Day were wonderful – I tried a bunch of new foods, the strangest being Foie Gras, which is duck liver that’s been fattened. I was skeptical, but it was actually really good! I was given some wonderful presents including earmuffs, chocolate, and a beautiful necklace from Emilie and her mother, all of which were completely unexpected and way too generous! It was really a fantastic experience to celebrate with a such a fun and loving family and see another culture’s take on the holiday season.

Yesterday was also a great day. James and I went to one last Christmas market in search of some discounted ornaments (which we successfully found), and it was really nice to get one last mug of delicious Glühwein. Tonight we’re celebrating Silvester (New Year’s Eve) together and I’m really excited to ring in the new year with fireworks and champagne!

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Sara: Christmas in Bolivia

December 28, 2011

I hope everyone had an awesome Christmas and are looking forward to the New Year! I spent my Christmas in Santa Cruz with my host family and extended host family. Here they open presents and do Christmas at midnight, 12a on the 25th. It was pretty cool to be part of another culture’s Christmas, but I definitely missed home a ton! 

I am finally back in Cochabamba now though finishing my last 2 weeks abroad. The trip back here was awful, 11 hour bus ride in the sweltering heat, although I can’t believe how fast this has all gone by!

I am super happy to be back in Cochabamba though, I really love my volunteer position here, I am working with the elderly and mostly I just hang out and hold their hands while they talk to me. Today I learned that Bolivianos (the currency) are used ALL OVER the world, including on the moon!  I hear some of the wildest things, usually we talk about where I am from and how long my hair is and that I should never cut it (at the center they specialize in Alzheimer’s and dementia) so we talk about the same thing every day. I love the old people though and the staff are great too!

I also am having a great time teaching English to the 13-year-old girl here named Sophie.  I am also thinking about visiting an orphanage here for a day too where I would just hang out and play games, helping the staff there.  I still have to talk to my supervisor here and get that set up for next week sometime.

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Chiyo: the world is your oyster

November 30, 2011

I love Wednesdays for two reasons. 1) Stylist magazine comes out and is FREE and 2) I have a 5 hour break in-between classes to spend exploring London. Today during my break, I went to my favorite “escape”, Covent Garden. I didn’t realize until this afternoon how much I do in London on a regular basis. I’m always on the go, and it was nice to just stay in one place for a few hours; especially one of my favorite spots in London.

I had some Christmas shopping to do, so I went to one of my favorite stores and bought some really great gifts for friends back home. I also made a stop at Apple Market, which in the winter turns into such a cute, festive, market. There is a HUGE Christmas tree, ornaments that are probably 6 feet in width hanging up all over the ceiling, and a giant astroturf reindeer. After spending some time at Covent Garden, I headed to South Ken to get away from the protests that were taking place nearby, and went to the Natural History Museum. There is a huge exhibit on dinosaurs right now, which made me think of my old roommate, and sorority sister Basalo. I took way too many pictures, and had a little too much fun for a 22 year old. My five hours soon came to an end, but overall it was a nice break from class and my internship.

In my LTI class today, we talked about the protests that were taking place here (1.5-2 mil ppl are protesting pension cuts), and then we had to form groups and draw pictures that described our experience here in London, but with no words. So we basically drew our adventures in Ealing since we spend so much time here it seems, and we’re just that tight of a group. Back at the flat my flatmate and I are enjoying some drinks, food, and jamming out to Jessie J. 

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Connie: 出発

December 28, 2010

Christmas was spent at izakaya, pestering John Lennon apparent look-alikes to stop writing their reports, going karaoke to sing songs like Burnin’ Christmas, eating French Toast and then eating Chinese food ala A Christmas Story. It snowed occasionally. Though it was a strange Christmas, it was a good one. If you can’t be with your family, you can at least make one! The snow from Christmas has turned into ugly rain. I’m going to leave this unpleasant weather soon. Tonight I’m hopping a night bus and going to Tokyo! I don’t know what I’ll do there, but get ready Tokyo!

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Connie: It’s begining to feel nothing like Christmas

December 22, 2010

Welcome to late December in Japan, where it doesn’t snow for more than 5 minutes and there is a 40 foot strip of Christmas lights on campus. That’s about it. You can go to bars and see Christmas trees tucked into the corner, and you can hear obnoxious MIDI renditions of Christmas music playing at the supermarket, but nothing more.

Christmas in Japan is a commercial holiday. It’s a lot like Valentine’s day actually—it’s a couples holiday. When it hit December, suddenly all the Japanese people who would normally show no affection for one another are holding hands. Apparently a joke in Japan is that the song “Jingle Bells” is actually “Single Bells”. Let me say, it’s quite strange to have a snow-less and couple-filled Christmas. There are Christmas things all over and yet, at the same time, they’re not Christmas-y at all.

After all, it’s not Christmas if you can’t see A Christmas Story on TV!

On Christmas Eve all of the exchange students are going to a party that includes going to an izakaya followed by karaoke. This is definitely one of the strangest Christmases I’ve ever had. A lot of people are opting out of the karaoke because it doesn’t feel right. But the way I figure it is what else am I going to do? “While in Rome” is the phrase. So while in Japan, sing karaoke?

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Natalie: Christmastime & I’m almost done…

December 15, 2010

It’s December… already! I have no idea where the time went, but I’m leaving Norway at the end of this month. It’s a surreal feeling. Home is within sight now.

I had to move out of my apartment this week. That meant packing. To my surprise all of my things fit in the 2 bags I brought them over in! Yeah! Now I’m staying on the couch in the living room. Super snazy. There is absolutely no sound barrier between the room and the kitchen. So when somones cooking at 3 in the morning (?) I can hear it!

This week I also spent revisiting some of the tourist sights in Oslo. Frank and I went to Vigeland Park:



I also did some Christmas shopping for all my lovies at home. I hope you like chocolate.

Friday, Magda, Jamie and I made cookies ALL day. We listened to Christmas music and made sugar cookies, raspberry thumbprints, peppermint bark, and peanut butter chocolate cookies. It took us all day! We also watched “Elf” that evening. Magda had never seen it. She thought it was hillarious.


Saturday Magda and I went to the Christmas market at the folk museum. It was one of my favorite experiences here in Norway other than the fact it was freezing cold out! There were stands selling everything from hand knit mittens to candied apples.



After the christmas market I came back and did some studying for my last final, Norwegian Life and Society. I think I did really well. The only thing I had trouble with was naming the top 3 political parties in Norway. Labor, Conservative… no clue.

After the exam a couple of us took the new T-Bane up to Holmenkollen. It was freezing, but so beautiful. We even spotted some Norwegians in their natural habitat! The woods. There is an amzing sledding hill here in Oslo. You can slide for about 10 minutes! Afterwards you just hop on the T-Bane and ride to the top again. It’s amazing! You have to pay to rent one of their sleds though.



Afterwards we rode to the city center and went to another Christmas market. The lights were really beautiful.
Here are some photos:


Tuesday Cecil came over and we made a wonderful lunch. Basically we threw every vegetable and leftover into a wok and stirred it into a lovely sauce for some rice. Coming down to the last couple days in Oslo is tough food wise. I’m sick of Ramen noodles and I only have 8 packs left to eat! Afterwards we went out to Sognsvann and walked around on the ice and out to a small island.




The frosted over trees are absolutly breathtaking.

And now I have to say goodbye to everyone I know here as I am leaving for Rome and Paris. I have this panicked feeling. This is the end of the most amazing journey in my life. I DON’T want it to end.

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