Monday, February 13, 2012

Christmas Memories

This past Christmas we were able to re-create our memories from the States here in China.  Some things were a bit easier than others.  For example, because of traveling and extended family Christmases, Santa has never come on Christmas Eve.  Ever since having children, he visited a few days before Christmas so we could celebrate in our own home.  Which, is really funny because the only argument Jamie and I had in pre-marital class was based on my insistence that Christmas morning be spent in our own home with our children.  But, now I like having Santa come early so that Christmas Eve and Christmas Day is not all about Santa and we can focus on the real reason for the season.

Thankfully Santa got my text and emails, so he knew to come visit our apartment in Suzhou before we flew back to U.S. for our first visit back.  This made things a bit complicated because we had to cram Christmas between celebrating EBean's birthday, her actual birth date, LBean's Christmas program at school, and packing to visit the U.S. for three weeks.  We managed, but it wasn't always pretty!

In my mind these are the things the make it Christmas at our house:

1. Making & decorating sugar cookies
2. Cooking a family meal & using the good china
3. The girls getting an ornament that represents their interests for the year
4. Opening matching pj's on "Christmas Eve" to wear on Christmas morning
5. Each child getting a book, which they find on their bed in the morning
6. Cinnamon rolls or other breakfast goodies to eat on "Christmas morning"
7. Reading the story of Jesus' birth
8. The girls exchanging a present with one another

Here's my assessment from our first Christmas in China:
1. We made the cookies using Aunt Dorothy's sugar cookie recipe.  The ingredients are a little more expensive here, but worth every penny.

2. I did not cook a family meal.  Usually I would make a ham or some yummy steaks, but considering the limited availability of ham and the incredible cost of good steaks (and the good china is in a storage unit in East Peoria), we decided to go out to our favorite Chinese restaurant in Old Town.  I told Jamie I think that I would consider changing our tradition to eat Chinese for our Christmas Eve to reflect our changing family.  It also makes me think of the movie "A Christmas Story" (even though that scene in the movie is stereotyping just a bit).

3.  I didn't find a good place to pick out ornaments for the girls.  So, we decided to choose ornaments at Hallmark during our visit to the U.S. (which they promptly broke) and they were allowed to pick out ornaments at a Christmas bazaar as a fundraiser for the orphanage where I volunteer.

4.  Oh boy, I managed to get the jammies made here, but I only had about 2 hours to spare. The week before our "Christmas" I went to the Suzhou fabric market to have pj's made for the girls since I didn't find anything I liked in the stores.  It was pretty easy to find flannel that I liked and with the help of my friend (who speaks much more Chinese than I do) we found out that we needed to go to the next stall over to have them sewn.  The guy running the booth told me he could have it done in 2 weeks, I shook my head and pointed to the calendar to say I needed them finished in a week.  He agreed.  I went back the next Friday to pick up the pj's and he said "ming tian", which means tomorrow.  "Ming tian" happened to be the Saturday that we were having our Christmas.  I went back the next morning to the fabric market and was standing at the gate when the man opened up his booth.  The jammies were not done.  He assured me that they would be done at 2 pm and to come back then.  Can you guess what happened?  You're right, when I went back they were not finished.  I wandered around the unheated fabric market and the flea market for 90 minutes while he made the pj's.  The only upside to the experience is that I now know where to buy buttons, rubber bands, uniforms for various jobs, ribbon, and dishes.

Matching jammies
5.   I managed to get the girls their books.  The wet market across the street also has a book store with English books.  That was an easy task to accomplish!

A new book, LBean was so happy

6.  A good friend here has started a baking business.  On Friday she delivers homemade cinnamon rolls and granola to her customers around Suzhou.  I was very happy to let Megan do the Christmas baking for me this year!

7. This was another memory that was easy to make was reading the nativity story.  Our sea shipment allowed us to bring 500 books, which about 90% of them were the girls' books, and included our book about Christmas.

Curled up and reading about baby Jesus.

8.  I was able to pick up some extra books at the bookstore and the girls really enjoyed wrapping a present for each other.  I was very impressed that they were able to keep it a secret, which might be in part because we wrapped them right before bed!

This Christmas EBean was starting to really understand what was going on and opening presents was fun.  (**Notice to anyone that might be reading this entry to our children in the future...if they are still Santa-believers kindly skip over this part!)  Our challenges with gift-giving were two-fold.  1) Where do you hide larger gifts while living in a high-rise apartment?  Thankfully with the tree out of our large closet, we could slide a two-wheeled contraption from Santa in there.  2) How do you purchase gifts without the kids knowing, especially when it involves a trip to Shanghai?  This was a bit more challenging.  A couple of friends were headed to Shanghai and they were willing to pick up EBean's kitchen (we tell her she got a kitchen remodel by upgrading her $12 garage sale kitchen to a nicer wooden one).  It came time for my friends to leave and the driver thought the kitchen wouldn't fit in the van with all of the passengers.  Moving to plan B, I gave my driver the money and sent him to Shanghai with the promise that my friend's driver would call or text the directions to the woman's house that imports these wooden play sets.  After some confusion and a few calls from Jamie, my driver got the kitchen and he delivered it during EBean's nap...just 3 days before our Christmas.

EBean's stash

LBean's stash

EBean asked for two things for Christmas, this
play-doh set and a pair of blue safety scissors like
her sister's so she didn't have to share!

Later in the week LBean had her Christmas program at school.  I didn't know what to expect, but I know I wasn't anticipating the Christmas story complete with a manager, shepherds and a baby Jesus.  The songs were very cute and Jamie got to see LBean perform on stage.  It was the first time that we had been able to sit in the audience and watch LBean without her wanting to come sit with us.

LBean is second from the right in the middle row.

A very happy girl!

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