Christmas in July by Andrea Hale
Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus, Snowmen, the Gingerbread Man and The Grinch. I sat at my desk in Jinsha Elementary School trying to think of different symbols of Christmas. The after the Director of Academic Affairs had approached me hoping that I could help the school put on a Christmas event. Most of the kids at school had heard of Christmas and already knew many traditional songs from previous years of schooling and foreign teachers. For the last couple of weeks, my English classes have taken on a different sort of character: instead of memorizing vocabulary and sentence structures, students have been using English to sing songs and explore different cultural traditions through stories. I prepared lessons on, "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," or "The Gingerbread Man." I had barely known these stories or their details beforehand and found myself relearning a Christmas tradition that I had not fully understand nor had I fully explored myself growing up in the United States.
On December 24th, all the kids at school dressed up and filed into the gym, watching performances and preparing themselves for their own. After a morning of dancing, singing and candy, the students went back to classes. I thought to myself afterwards that perhaps I should be an elementary school dance teacher, if such a job existed. I had a lot of fun helping the kids learn to sing and dance. Through preparation for the Christmas event, I was able to bond with many students through artistic forms of personal expression that are not always used or practical in a typical classroom setting. The Christmas time preparations have made me question traditional styles of teaching and how different methods of teaching can be creatively introduced in teaching. Out of the many Christmas songs, my main teaching objective emerged renewed and refortified: to inspire students' curiosity of the learning process so that they can find motivation in the face of anything new and different.
While I set forth relatively simple images of what holidays in the United States are like in Elementary school, I also confront the question: "What do the holidays mean to me?" I find that the ways in which people celebrate the holidays are diverse and varied. For example, in the United States some of the most popular holidays are Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and New Years. To answer this question I turned to some family and friends and asked them what the holidays mean to them. Here are some of their responses:
#1: "We celebrate Christmas and Christmas Eve for the birth of Jesus. To remember that the Kings brought Jesus presents-that's why we give our kids presents. It means family union."
#2: "A way to relive older traditions. So that the kids don't lose this excitement and it's not lost to business interests and consumerism. So that they can have a feeling of something that they have learned from their parents."
#3: "The holidays are a hypocrisy. I feel like it's a space that the system has made where people can get together but they don't stop being consumerist events. Maybe they began as heartfelt events but they have turned into stress and worrying about expenses. There are beautiful moments but there isn't the feeling of excitement like there was when I was younger. The holidays have lost a lot of feeling."
#4: "The holiday season means that, it's a family get together. That's the important thing for me. It's a family gathering to celebrate occasions, an opportunity for the family to get together to share stories and to relax. It's important because family is the most important factor in life. I have certain expectations that my family will get together to be with each other. You can't expect other friends and relatives to be with you all the time where as you can expect your family to come together. If I could wish for something it would be that everyone will come back home and be together during Christmas and New Year's Eve."
These responses reflect different cultural backgrounds and practices and the complexity of where human imagination meets human reality. But perhaps my favorite response was my mother's when we talked about Christmas and presents. I told her, "I didn't know if I should send anything." She said, "Of course not. We did not send you anything. We will celebrate Christmas in July. We will keep your presents wrapped here." I look forward to bringing my family lots of presents from Kinmen and celebrating Christmas in July. It will be a first.
Can Santa Claus Read Chinese? by Brett Burk
I was five years old when I found Christmas presents under the stairs labeled "To: Brett// From: Santa Claus." Instead of confronting my grandparents about my discovery, I chose to remain silent. I feared that if I told them I knew Santa wasn't real, they wouldn't let me have the Christmas presents. As a result, at home, I pretended to believe in Santa Claus. However, school was a different story. "Santa's not real," I told anyone who would listen. Some kids reacted with curiosity, but for the most part they reacted with anger and disbelief.
Many of my students have approached me to both ask and confirm Santa Claus's existence. I never quite know how to respond to their questions. "Can Santa Claus read Chinese?" a student asked as she was writing her Christmas wish list in English. "I think he probably can," I replied. Another instance with three first graders at lunch left me speechless as they all agreed, with certainty, that Santa lives in Finland and doesn't come to Kinmen because it's too far away.
While I can no longer confirm or deny Santa's existence here or anywhere else on Earth, Santa's presupposed existence undoubtedly sparks imaginations around the globe. The question "What do you want Santa to bring you for Christmas?" leaves room for unbounded possibilities while "What do you want your parents to buy you for Christmas?" doesn't seem nearly as fantastic. Santa's scope of gift giving isn't limited by a price range or practicality like that of parents. Santa has the latent ability to bring nice kids around the world ponies, monster trucks, and millions of dollars while most parents can at most manage a puppy, a toy car, and some spending money.
My younger students easily came up with ideas for a wish list to Santa. But with older students, I had to change the prompt from "What do you want Santa to bring you for Christmas?" to "If you could have anything in the world, what would it be?" a rather daunting question. However, when you add "Santa", the question seems less daunting and more exciting. Santa has the perceived power to bring tangible objects like toys and candy but not good grades and future career goals. The fun part of Christmas is the creativity involved in giving and receiving thoughtful tangible gifts that in turn bring about higher order gifts like love and friendship. Santa Claus is merely the means of establishing the meaningful giving and receiving dynamic that brings brings friends, families, and complete strangers together for the holiday season.
This Christmas, I participated in a Secret Santa gift exchange where I was assigned a friend for whom to buy a present, and somebody else involved in the game received my name. While I did not know exactly what the person who's name I was assigned wanted, I spent a lot of time thinking about the person and shopping for potential Christmas presents, imagining the person's excitement as they opened each prospective gift. I felt much closer to this person after spending so much time thinking about the perfect gift to give them.
After I figured out that Santa Claus wasn't real, I thought more about what I was writing on my wish lists. I wanted to write down gifts that I knew my family members could afford and resultantly the imagination I channeled into my wishlist disappeared. For children, the fun of Christmas lies in dreaming up the most fantastic gifts and believing in the fun tales surrounding Santa Claus. But for adults, the creativity lies in the process of thinking up the perfect gift. So even though the fat magical man living in the North Pole may not be real (for all of us), he is the means to facilitate a creative, meaningful gift-giving holiday season.