Category Archives: Holidays

Christmas Songs

December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas to our friends everywhere!  Please share these songs with us! 


Some Favorites we’ve compiled to share with our friends,

December 2006


O holy night, the stars are brightly shining;
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary soul rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees, O hear the angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born!
O night, O holy night, O night divine!


Here we come, a wassailing among the leaves of green!

Here we come a wandering, so fair to be seen

Love and joy, come to you!

And to you, good tidings, too!

And God bless you and send you a Happy New Year!

And God send you a Happy New Year!


The first Noel, the angel did say,

Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay.

In fields where they lay keeping their sheep,

On a cold winter’s night that was so deep.

Noel, noel, noel, noel. Born is the king of Israel!

They looked up, and saw a star,

Shining in the east beyond them far.

And to the earth, it gave great light,

And so it continued both day and night.

Noel, noel, noel, noel. Born is the king of Israel!

This star drew nigh, then to the northwest.

Over Bethlehem, it took its rest.

And there it did both stop and stay

Right over the place where Jesus lay.

Noel, noel, noel, noel. Born is the king of Israel!


Hark, the herald angels sing,

Glory to the newborn king!

Peace on earth and mercy mild,

God and sinners reconciled.

Joyful, all Ye nations, rise!

Join the triumph of the skies!

With angelic host proclaim,

Christ is born in Bethlehem!

Hark, the Herald Angels sing,

Glory to the newborn king!

Christ, by highest heav’n adored,

Christ, the everlasting Lord.

Late in time, behold Him come,

Offspring of the favored one!

Veiled in flesh, the God-head see

Hail th’ incarnate Diety.

Pleased, as man with men to dwell;

Jesus, our Emmanual!

Hark, the Herald Angels sing,

Glory to the newborn king!

Hail! The heav’n born Prince of Peace!

Hail! The Song of Righteousness!

Light and life to all He brings,

Ris’n with healing in His wings.

Mild He lays His glory by,

Born that man no more may die.

Born to raise the sons of earth,

Born to give them second birth!

Hark, the Herald Angels sing,

Glory to the newborn king!


Angels we have heard on high,

Sweetly singing o’er the plains

And the mountains in reply

Echo-ing their joyous strains!

Glo’oria, in excelsius deo

Glo’oria, in excelsius deo.

Shepherds, why this jubilee?
Why your joyous strains prolong?
What the gladsome tidings be
Which inspire your heavenly song?

Glo’oria, in excelsius deo

Glo’oria, in excelsius deo.

Come to Bethlehem and see
Christ Whose birth the angels sing;
Come, adore on bended knee,
Christ the Lord, the newborn King.

Glo’oria, in excelsius deo

Glo’oria, in excelsius deo.

See Him in a manger laid,
Whom the choirs of angels praise;
Mary, Joseph, lend your aid,
While our hearts in love we raise.


Silent Night, Holy Night

All is calm, all is bright

Round yon virgin, mother and child

Holy infant, so tender and mild

Sleep in heavenly peace

Sleep in heavenly peace

Silent Night, Holy Night

Shepherds quake, at the sight

Glories stream, from heaven afar!

Choirs of Angels sing Al-le-lu-ia

Christ, the savior, is born!

Christ, the savior, is born.

Silent Night, Holy Night

Son of God, love’s pure light

Radiant beams from Thy holy face

Bring the dawn of redeeming grace

Jesus, Lord at thy birth,

Jesus, Lord at thy birth


Away in a manger, no crib for a bed

The little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head

The stars in the sky looked down where he lay

On the little Lord Jesus, asleep in the hay.

The cattle are lowing, the poor baby wakes

The little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes!

I love Thee, Lord Jesus, look down from on high

And stay by my cradle, till morning is nigh.

Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay

Close by me forever, and love me, I pray!

Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care,

and take them to heaven to live with Thee there.


We, three kings of Orient are!

Bearing gifts, we traverse afar!

Field and fountain, moor and mountain

Following yonder star. Oh . . .

Star of wonder, star of might

Star with royal beauty bright.

Westward leading, still proceeding,

Guide us to thy perfect light.

Glorious now, behold Him arise,

King and God and sacrifice.

Al-le-lu-ia, al-le-luia,

Ea-rth to heav-’n replies,

Oh . . . Star of wonder, star of night

Star with royal beauty bright.

Westward leading, still proceeding,

Guide us to thy perfect light.


Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make . . . His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glo’ries of . . . His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.


O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye, to Bethlehem.
Come and behold Him, born the King of angels;

Refrain: O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

Sing, choirs of angels, sing in exultation;
O sing, all ye citizens of heaven above!
Glory to God, all glory in the highest;


Child, for us sinners poor and in the manger,
We would embrace Thee, with love and awe;
Who would not love Thee, loving us so dearly?


Yea, Lord, we greet Thee, born this happy morning;
Jesus, to Thee be glory given;
Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing.



I’m dreaming of a white Christmas
Just like the ones I used to know
Where the treetops glisten,
and children listen
To hear sleigh bells in the snow
I’m dreaming of a white Christmas
With every Christmas card I write
May your days be merry and bright
And may all your Christmases be white
I’m dreaming of a white Christmas
With every Christmas card I write
May your days be merry and bright
And may all your Christmases be white


Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,
Jack Frost nipping on your nose,
Yuletide carols being sung by a choir,
And folks dressed up like Eskimos.
Everybody knows a turkey and some mistletoe,
Help to make the season bright.
Tiny tots with their eyes all aglow,
Will find it hard to sleep tonight.
They know that Santa’s on his way;
He’s loaded lots of toys and goodies on his sleigh.
And every mother’s child is going to spy,
To see if reindeer really know how to fly.
And so I’m offering this simple phrase,
To kids from one to ninety-two,
Although its been said many times, many ways,
A very Merry Christmas to you


Sleigh bells ring, are you listening,
In the lane, snow is glistening
A beautiful sight,
We’re happy tonight.
Walking in a winter wonderland.
Gone away is the bluebird,
Here to stay is a new bird
He sings a love song,
As we go along,
Walking in a winter wonderland.
In the meadow we can build a snowman,
Then pretend that he is Parson Brown
He’ll say: Are you married?
We’ll say: No man,
But you can do the job
When you’re in town.
Later on, we’ll conspire,
As we dream by the fire
To face unafraid,
The plans that we’ve made,
Walking in a winter wonderland.
In the meadow we can build a snowman,
And pretend that he’s a circus clown
We’ll have lots of fun with mister snowman,
Until the other kids knock him down.
When it snows, ain’t it thrilling,
Though your nose gets a chilling
We’ll frolic and play, the Eskimo way,
Walking in a winter wonderland

Rudolph, the red nosed reindeer,

had a very shiny nose

And if you ever saw it,

You would even say it glows.

All of the other reindeer

Used to laugh and call him names,

They never let poor Rudolph

join in any reindeer games!

Then one foggy Christmas eve,

Santa came to say,

“Rudolph, with your nose so bright,

Won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?”

Then how the reindeer loved him

And they shouted out with glee,

Rudolph the red nosed reindeer,

You’ll go down in history!


Dashing through the snow, in a one horse, open sleigh

Over the fields we go, laughing all the way!

Bells on bob tail ring, making spirits light,

What fun it is to ride and sing, a sleighing song tonight! Oh . . .

Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way!

Oh, what fun it is to ride in a one horse, open sleigh!

Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way!

Oh what fun it is to ride in a one horse, open sleigh!

We Wish You a Merry Christmas

We wish you a merry Christmas,

we wish you a merry Christmas,

We wish you a merry Christmas,

and a happy New Year!

Good tidings we bring,

To you and your kin

We wish you a Merry Christmas,

And a happy New Year!

Please bring us some figgy pudding

Please bring us some figgy pudding,

Please bring us some figgy pudding,

and bring it right here!

We won’t go until we get some,

We won’t go until we get some,

We won’t go until we get some,

so bring it right here!

Glad tidings we bring, to you and your kin

Glad tidings for Christmas, And a Happy New Year!


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A Reiteration

26 November 2009

Today was the American day of Thanksgiving.  It’s a busy day.  I’ll just reiterate a blog entry I wrote a few years ago:!F92952EA9124A41B!2257.entry

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8 March 2009

Have you ever wondered just what was the spark that ignited the flame of the Russian Revolution in 1917? Russia was at war in on its eastern front and sending supplies to support that effort.  In St. Petersburg, it had been a long winter.  The men had largely been conscripted into the army, leaving women to support their families alone.  There was hardship and hunger.  On International Women’s Day in 1917, thousands women marched on the Palace to demanding "peace, bread, and land." 

Fearing unrest, and with most of his Army away from the city, the Tsar Nicholas II was desperate enough to keep order that he commanded the Palace Guard to fire on the marchers.  The guards refused to fire on the unarmed women, and joined them instead.  One thing led to another; things snowballed and escalated.  The rest is history. All because of International Women’s Day and the distaste of the Palace Guard for firing upon women who were marching for food for their children.  [For one reference available online click HERE].

I was shocked to learn, however, that the first precursor to International Women’s Day was in the same year my grandfather was born, in 1908.  In the year of my grandfather’s birth, 15,000 women marched in the streets of New York City demanding shorter hours, better pay, and voting rights [for full reference click HERE].  In 1909, the National Socialist Party in the USA declared the first IWD. Once the ball was rolling, the cause was also taken up in Europe.  At a conference attended by women from 17 countries, Clara Zetkin proposed that one day in particular be designated internationally, and the date was standardized.  Well, guess what day that is?  Today!  March 8th!* 

The link of IWD with socialism and condition of the working class is significant.  IWD has particularly been associated with class struggle of socialism and the seeking of worker rights.  Immediately after the Russian Revolution, great advances for women were written into Russian law.  Some of those changes are written about HERE.

Women still have a long way to go.  Statistics show that women still earn a FRACTION of the pay of similarly situated males.  (I note that in the USA, women received the right to vote some decades after did the freed male slaves.  Perhaps we’ll have a female president in about the same amount of time after we have an African American, male president?) 

Women still have a long way to go in China in terms of reaching equality in that society.  While it is possible for women to achieve positions of leadership in government and business, it is more often the exception than the rule.  More typically, a woman considers herself "middle aged" in the working world when she is over 30 years old.  As just one example, I one time asked a tour guide how she chose that profession.  She replied:

I used to work as a waitress in a restaurant, and then I became the manager.  I worked as a waitress for two years.  I worked several more years as the manager.  About four years.  I really loved my job, and I was good at it.  My boss was great.  He was the owner.  I did really well and the business grew by leaps and bounds.  But after a few years he told me, "You’re not so young any more.  I really like you, but I’m going to have to hire someone younger.  Take some time, maybe a year, but you need to find another position."  You know [she explained to me], when people come into a restaurant, they want to see a really pretty face.  I wasn’t so young anymore.  I wasn’t so pretty as I had been when I was younger.  So, that’s when I started to look around.

Advertisements sometimes plainly state that only pretty girls need apply, and many women over age 30 believe they are no longer marketable.  I had one friend, for example, who had worked for a large multinational corporation until her first (and only) child was born.  Now that he was older, she wanted to return to work.  I suggested that she reapply to the same company where she had previously worked.   "Oh no," was her reply.  "I’m much too old.  I’m all washed out.  They’d never hire me."  This was a woman who was 36 years old when we were speaking. 

I also noticed a double standard socially, in terms of behavior that was accepted for women and men.  I once turned heads when I ordered beer in a restaurant, because all the other people with me were Chinese women.  In my group of friends, women did not generally order beer.  Old enough to have lived through the Cultural Revolution, they still thought it was unladylike.   I had not realized this, because when I had been out with Chinese people before it had always before been in mixed company.  Under the particular circumstances, I decided that I would break the rule and have the beer anyway.  One of my friends asked me, "In America, do all women drink beer?" 

"No," I replied, "Only San Ba Nu. Wo shi [I am a ] San Ba Nu." 

To explain what is a "San Ba Nu," I refer you to this video!  Enjoy! 

And ….  San Ba Fu Nu Jie Kuaile!




*According to one web site, IWD is now an official holiday in China, Armenia, Russia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, Moldova, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.   For a more detailed history with references see THIS history by Alexandra Kollantai, translated from its original 1920’s source.


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Christmas In October

19 October 2008

This is just a quick reminder.  If you are an American expat in China and hoping to send Christmas gifts home to the USA, it’s time to mail them.  If you are an American with a friend overseas, it’s time to mail those too, if you want to get them there by Christmas! 

It takes somewhere between eight and twelve weeks for packages sent by parcel post to travel around the globe between the USA and China.  (The shortest time any package ever took for me was about 5 1/2 weeks, and the longest was 13 weeks.)  If you slip up and wait too late, there are other options.  You can use DHL, UPS, and Fed Ex, but those options are more expensive.  Parcel post, however, is not too expensive and can be a great way to share things with your family and friends in your home country. 

There are a couple of ways to mail a package from China to the USA.  Some of the Five Star hotels offer mailing services, or even may have a Chinese post office in their business malls.  The employees in such a post office are more likely to have experience shipping packages overseas and may even speak a bit of English.  Unless you can use one of these services, it’s a good idea to take a Chinese speaking person with you (unless you can speak Chinese yourself).  Some Chinese postal service employees speak English, but don’t count on it! 

Before you go, package your goods sell wrapped in paper or bubble wrap.  Theoretically, the post office sells everything you need, but their inside packing materials are things like hard styrofoam and are not suitable for delicate items.  They also don’t supply packing tape, even if you buy the box from them. 

The postal employees are supposed to make sure that no newspaper is smuggled out of the country in the form of packaging.  One year, I had packed fragile items in newspaper before placing it in the box I carried from home.  The postal employee let me through, but warned me not to do it again.  They are also supposed to inspect and make sure you are not shipping out antiquities or illegal things.  Thus, do not seal the boxes prior to taking them to the postal service.  Leave things so they are easy to inspect.  Similarly, when I’ve shipped gifts, I have wrapped the gift but left the paper so that it was very easy to peek inside and see the contents inside the wrapping paper. 

When the item arrives in the receiving country, Customs there will also inspect it, so you want to have everything in a situation where it’s easy to inspect.  In light of the need to have things available for inspection at the postal service, you will need to carry your tape and packing supplies to seal the boxes up after they are inspected. 

As a matter of caution, I always put a paper inside the box which listed destination address and phone numbers as well as shipper address and phone numbers, and a photocopy of my passport.  That way, if the box were delivered to the wrong place or damaged, someone would know who to call for more information.  I also write the contact information on the outside of the box and place clear packing tape over the information, which is in addition to the shipping label.  I write the address in Chinese as well, because Chinese postal employees don’t all read English or Pinyin.  Probably not necessary, but I’d rather be safe than sorry.  I also never purchased the optional insurance.  Maybe it’s just me, but I couldn’t figure out how I’d ever collect on a claim if one arose.  Even this summer, when our air shipment boxes arrived here badly mishandled, the carrier claimed that the damage had occurred during Customs inspection.  (Fortunately, the contents had been rummaged through but not damaged.)

When you first arrive at the postal office, show the postal worker at the counter your boxes.  They may ask you (in Chinese), "ground or air?"  This distinction made for domestic envelopes does not apply to international shipments.  For international shipments, you fill out the international form and then figure out shipping cost based on weight and method of shipping. 

There are three different prices for shipping boxes internationally.  The cheapest way is to go by land (or sea) all the way, with no air component.  This is the option that takes about eight weeks.  The most expensive method is to air ship the box.  This will take somewhere between one and two weeks.  There is a third option, which is to send by a mixture of air and ground freight.  This third option will take about four weeks, so you really split the difference.  The third option also costs the average between the air and freight, so it is also the middle price tag.  When you take  your boxes to the desk the first time, they can weigh them, look up your destination, and tell you the exact cost for the three different choices.  Then comes the fun part. 

The job’s not finished until the paperwork is done. 

I heartily advise taking a hard pen and plenty of carbon paper to the Post Office when you mail your boxes from inside China.  This is because you will have to fill out each address form in triplicate.  I never had foresight to take carbon paper, but it is readily available in the little office supply shops that dot the city.  While you fill out your paperwork, make sure someone watches your boxes.  One time, one of my boxes disappeared while I was distracted with paperwork.  (Thank goodness, it was an empty box.  I’d like to think that someone thought it was an extra, but no one asked.  It was a reminder that all it takes is a moment of inattentiveness and you may have a very big loss.) 

In addition to the address forms, you will need to fill out a Customs declaration.  The postal worker will give this form to you.  One time I took my receipts for the items, to show them to the postal worker.  He said he didn’t care, that my Customs declaration was for U.S. Customs.  If they were to question me, he said, that’s when I’d have to produce receipts.  The form tells you to itemize and then put what you paid.  I generally said something about as detailed as, "six shirts, 300 RMB."   One time when I was sending a large box with a bunch of small "goodies" for some children in my family, I just wrote "various small gifts for children" and that went through Customs okay.  Of course, they had the option of looking in the box and they could see exactly what I meant.  Always assume that your boxes will be opened by Customs. 

For heavens sake, don’t try to ship in counterfeit goods.  Anything brand new with that designer label and certificate of authenticity is going to be stopped.  Also, don’t try to ship DVD’s to the USA.  Forget sending Grandma a Rolex watch or Mont Blanc pen!  There are nightmare stories about fines for people trying to do this.  In my view, we consumers are merely the victims.  How am I to know whether something is fake or not, but U.S. Customs will rank you right up there with the most reviled smugglers.  One time my husband got stopped and interrogated by Customs over his personal golf clubs.  The only thing that saved him was the dirt and scratches on them. 

This brings us to what is allowed to be in the box that you ship.  Different countries have different rules about food.  Australia is the most strict.  Australia won’t even let parents bring in baby formula in bottles.  So, no, do not try to ship even packaged food to Australia!  On the other hand, the USA is really only concerned about things that could bring in germs or seeds that could disrupt the environment or gene pool here in this country.  Packaged and processed food is okay. 

One time, for example, I had some dried apricots in my bag that I had purchased at a street market.  I assumed they were forbidden, so I pulled them out and showed them to the Customs officer as I entered the U.S. at an airport.  He replied, "we’re not concerned about those," and let me carry them into the country.  That’s because they were preserved and did not have any seeds that could grow.  I could not, however, have carried in a fresh apple, because it had seeds. 

With that said, one of the funnest gifts I sent "home," I think, was that one time I went to a Chinese grocery store and purchased packaged snack foods that you simply would not find in the USA.  It was things like eel flavored potato chips, strawberry flavored popcorn, shredded dried pork, and Chinese flower teas.  These were a fun treat for some children in my family to sample. 

All in all, a trip to the Chinese post office is a challenging trip.  Count on it taking at least an hour, longer if you have a lot of boxes, but lots of people do it with good success.  The people in the post office will work with you.  It’s helpful to have plenty of time, patience, and a Chinese friend to help you navigate. 

And in the end, there will be something from you and hopefully for you under that tree on Christmas day! 

Good luck! 

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Mid Autumn Festival

September 7, 2008

One of my favorite times of year is coming up soon.  It’s the Chinese Mid Autumn Festival.  The Mid Autumn festival is held on the Fifteenth Day of the Eighth Lunar Month of the Chinese traditional calendar.  This year, the date falls on the night of September 14th, 2008.  On that night, the full moon is supposed to make its roundest and brightest appearance of the year. 

The appearance of the largest and brightest moon of the year marks the time to celebrate the harvest as well as a time to remember and be thankful for the the idea of completeness and abundance of our lives.  Naturally, therefore, it’s a time to celebrate this in the fullness of our family circle. 

The American tradition closest in flavor to the celebration of the mid Autumn festival is our Thanksgiving (which we celebrate on the fourth Thursday in November).  In China, families gather for a meal and for something like a family reunion, just as Americans do for Thanksgiving.  But in China, the celebration is held outside, whenever possible, so that the light of the moon may be enjoyed.   Families make a point of eating outside under the moonlight or strolling outside, taking time to enjoy each others’ company in the light of the abundant, full moon. 

At this time, people also decorate with red lanterns.  In China, red is a color of joy and celebration.  Some people make ornate and decorated lanterns, and children carry lanterns.  The lanterns are not always red.  There are many ornate lanterns of many different designs.  Also, for safety reason, the traditional lanterns with candles inside have (at least in Guangzhou) given way to lanterns that are lit by small battery operated lights inside.  All the children have them.  The children delight in being allowed on this night to stay up past their bedtime to go outside and show off their lanterns, dancing and prancing around in the moonlight with other children.

So, it’s also called the lantern festival. 


One year, a little girl who lived near us did, indeed, have a lantern lit by a candle inside.  She got so excited from playing with her lantern that she swung it a little too hard, starting a small fire on the grass in our housing compound! 

Our apartment compound was always beautifully decorated and lit up at mid Autumn festival.  I think I shall miss it!  The trees were always strung on their branches with green lights, with hundreds of small, red lanterns hanging from the trees.  The archways of the walks had been hung with large red lanterns.  I’m sorry to say that I failed to take any photographs of this lovely sight, but I have some other photos of the lantern decorations that were shot a few times here or there. 

In Guangzhou, there is a special exhibit of lanterns at a park.  Here is a link to an article about it, though I regret that I have no idea where the "Culture Park" is located.  Click here for link

People also make and eat special "Moon Cakes" during mid Autumn festival.  The Chinese name for these is yue bing (月饼).  Yue is the word for moon, and bing is a shortened version of the word for cake.  (For a photo click here .)  They are made from white flour and sugar with only very little leavening.  They are round, molded into in the shape of a full moon (of course), and they have treats in the middle.  The treat in the center might be an egg yolk, a piece of sweetened lotus paste, sweet bean paste, some nuts, some jelly, or any number of other things that could also be salty or very flavorful.  The moon cakes were so rich that I could usually only eat a half of one. 

These moon cakes can be quite fancy (and expensive).  The molds for the moon cakes have Chinese characters on them for things like "happiness" or "fortune," and the cakes are exchanged as gifts.   To be honest, most of them were not to my taste.  I found the cakes generally to be a bit sweet, the cake part a bit dry, and also the flavors of the inside treats perhaps more suited to a Chinese palate than a western one.  My Chinese friends understood this.  They told me that most Westerners don’t like them. 

On this year’s September 15th, the night of the fullest Autumn moon, I encourage you to hang a red lantern in your house or on your porch, have some friends or family over to visit, eat a special round shaped dessert, stroll under the light of the moon, and think about the fullness of all of our many blessings! 


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Holidays Abroad: Making A Home Away From Home

I just found this file that I wrote in December so I will date it, December 2007


I’ve written about discrete holidays in the life of our family, but today I realized that I’ve never written expressly about how we cope with loss during holiday time.  Loss, during holiday time?  Did I say that right?  Yes, I did.  Some would think that an expat lives a charmed life, and in a sense we do.  We have been given a fantastic opportunity to dwell within another culture and to see another part of the world.  But living in a very different culture is not without its challenges and hurdles:  mental, physical, and emotional.  
For most people, holidays are associated with families and friends, traditions and special things we do the same year after year, whether it’s singing Christmas carols,  spinning dreidels, or throwing paint on our friends.  When it’s impossible to reunite with families during holiday time, impossible to find traditional foods, impossible to participate in traditional festivities, there is going to be a distinct awareness of the loss of those things. 
For us, it has been four years since we’ve been able to be with our families at Christmas, four years since we’ve been able to attend Christmas Eve service in our own church, four years since we’ve been able to go to an Easter sunrise service, four years since we’ve been able to go somewhere local to see fireworks on New Year’s Eve or Fourth of July.  I’m not trying to play the violin string too strongly, but it’s simply a fact of life that we deal with.  A person considering living abroad needs to be aware of this fact before accepting an expat assignment.  Before accepting such an assignment, one could blithely say, "I’ll just fly home at x holiday."  But it’s not that simple.  What if there’s no school or work holiday, what if it’s too expensive?  For our family to go home for a holiday — or for a funeral or emergency — would cost more than $10,000 U.S.  In an ideal world, yeah, sure.  But in reality, it’s not actually practical.  With some practice, one learns how to cope:  what traditions and customs to hang onto, what things to let go of, and what to create from scratch.
I believe I wrote about the New Years that my ham turned out to be a piece of rolled lard (since I couldn’t read the ingredient label).  Did I ever write in my blog about the Thanksgiving I cooked a chicken (since I knew we couldn’t eat or store a turkey), except I didn’t know how to use the convection microwave (since the directions were all in a different language), so the chicken turned out dry and crispy — something like jerky — and then my husband worked late; and even after he was home we learned that our children wouldn’t be home for supper anyway (since it was dress rehearsal for the school play)?  When one is accustomed to having a Thanksgiving full of family and traditional foods and at least a meal together, the absence of that tradition can be felt pretty acutely.  It was not a fun Thanksgiving.  Oh, and then there was the Thanksviving when S had just gotten out of the hospital, we had just returned from the country where she had been transported for medical care, and there was no food in the house anyway.  At one point half the family was in tears on that day, and only half the family went out to the expat restaurant for a meal while the other half stayed home.   Holidays have not always been fun! 
Holidays can be one of the hardest time for expats, until they learn how to cope.  There’s a distinct learning curve.  The Thanksgiving when half of us went and half stayed home, alone in a dark house, was our first and worst Thanksgiving out.  Fortunately, each one has gotten better, and I think now we’re on the other side of the learning curve.  I decided to write this entry in case some lonely expat might sometime find this page as a result of a google search about lonely Thanksgiving, sad Christmas, blue Holidays in general.  Because, there is light at the end of the tunnel!  Here are my suggestions:
1. My first suggestion is, think twice.  Be very thoughtful about whether your personality is right for an expat assignment, to begin with.  Be honest and realistic about what your deepest values and needs are.   This is not a matter of strength or weakness, good or bad.  It’s simply a matter of knowing one’s self and being comfortable with who one is.  Some people prefer a noisy environment with lots of stimulation whereas others prefer a quiet life with lots of solitude.  Some prefer small town or rural life, while some prefer a big city.  Neither is good or bad in itself, neither is right or wrong across the board, but one could be the wrong decision for a particular person.  It is a matter of knowing one’s self and doing what is right for "me".  Just as none of these choices implies weakness, neither is it a terrible fault if one happens to have a personal preference to live deeply nestled within the heart of one’s home culture.  If you don’t relish new experiences, if you prefer to stay in your home town and enjoy the comfort of the familiar, then it’s best to know that and value it before it’s irretrievable.  Enjoy the life that you have and relish it; don’t feel that you must accept an expat assignment if it’s just not in your personality. 

There are sobering statistics out there about how many expat assignments fail.  Failure in an expat assignment could also have career ramifications, and there are also very sobering statistics about the failure rate of expat marriages.  It can be very hard on spouses and children, too.  So, don’t feel bad if you decide not to expose your family or career to that risk. 

2. My second suggestion is to anticipate and prepare.  I alluded in one blog entry to the fact that we get Easter egg dying supplies from our home country, sometimes purchased as much as a year in advance since (we learned) Easter Egg Dye is only seasonally stocked in USA stores.  We keep on hand a few holiday decorations for every holiday (small and easily packed away), just so we can have some symbolic presence even if we can’t reconstruct the full blown event.  Every year in August I buy some bits of foods or ingredients to carry in my suitcase so I can make traditional holiday foods for Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays, and Easter.  This year, I even asked my friend Kathy to bring me a pine scented Christmas candle in her suitcase.  My friend Jim brought blackstrap Molasses.  David asked his mom to ship us fruitcakes!  There are going to be a few things that you will just want to bring from home.  But you can’t bring everything, so choose sparingly.   Think well in advance about what is important and figure out what you have to do to accomplish that small kernel of what is most important. 
3. My third suggestion is to lower expectations.  Expect nothing, and then you might be pleasantly surprised at anything.  So, it can even be a pleasant surprise when a stranger on the street says, "Merry Christmas!" 
4. My fourth suggestion is to develop a network.  If you can’t be with extended family at Hannukah, then make your own family.  The first year we had our now-Annual Christmas Carol sing at our house, it was an accident that it was scheduled for the day of Christmas Eve.  The day happened to fall on a Sunday, and that was the day most people could come.  But then we realized, that creating a new and different tradition had filled the gap that otherwise would have been left open.  On a "normal" Christmas Eve, we would have been with family but here we had none.  Our friends became our new family.  So now we deliberately have it on Christmas Eve, to create a special time for all of us forlorn souls who otherwise would have a gaping hole in our activities. 
5. And, finally, develop new traditions.  Don’t waste emotional energy trying to recapture that which cannot be recaptured.  Find a new way to have joy.  My sister married a person who always must work on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas.  At first she was at a loss about how to cope.  But she decided to make the best of it by volunteering at a soup kitchen on that day.  What a nice and meaningful way to embrace the challenging circumstance and make the most of it.  After many years of volunteering at the soup kitchen on Thanksgiving day, it has become their own, special family tradition.  I imagine they would continue that tradition even if the circumstances that gave rise to it were to change. 
I have a suspicion that these suggestions for dealing with loss also would apply to people who find themselves experiencing any type of extreme disturbance of expectations or loss at holiday season.  I fortunately have never lost a parent, but I remember very well the sadness that overwhelmed a household we visited one time, right after the grandfather had died.  The family was trying to be cheerful, but faces were very long and silences were long.  We could tell from the demeanor of the whole family that Grandpa’s loss was being keenly felt on that first Christmas without him.  In circumstances like that, just as in the expat circumstance, it’s impossible to recreate that which can never be recaptured.  In that case, I believe it’s especially important to create new traditions.  Carry some traditions forward, just as your Loved One would want you to do.  But also leave the sacred memories where they are, untouched, and create a new path where there can be another source for joy.  Don’t try to recapture that which is impossible to recapture
Two or three years ago, a new family moved in our housing complex.  They were already experienced expats, having lived in many countries already.  Unlike us, they jumped right in and did everything right as soon as they moved in.  They put up a big tree, decorated their house, invited friends, had parties.  Within a week, the wife seemed to have friends and know her way around town, she had already networked enough to find where to buy cheese and other things that are hard to find.  Astounded at their transition, I asked them how they had done it.  They told me that they had learned that the best way to cope was to jump in with two feet immediately and actively pursue what was important to them.  I noticed that my friend even had fresh parsnips for her family’s Christmas dinner!  Amazed, I asked her,  how in the world she managed to snag fresh parsnips?  She quietly but emphatically said, "Don’t ask!"  It was a real coup.  She knew what was important, and she had figured out how to do it.  You do, too.  Figure out what it is that you most want from your holiday, plan how to make that happen, and then pursue it.  Don’t wait for life to happen by accident:  you must make your own holiday dreams come true.   
Happy Holidays! 

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Train Station People

There is no equivalent to Chinese New Year in the west, that I know of anyway.  It’s big.  I’ve been busy getting ready for it, because we’re going on a trip. 
However, I’m also silenced in the face of a humanitarian crisis of grave proportions across southeastern China.  Keep those affected in your prayers.  
I understand that trains have resumed running roughly normally in Guangzhou at least, but as of about noon today there were still 200,000 people stranded, waiting in cold weather to get on the trains to return to their family homes for Chinese New Year.  People wonder, why do they wait out in the cold and rain?  It’s not just because this is what they live for, working sometimes thirty days per month for a year and sending the money home to their families.  In many cases, the factory dormitories where they live, sleeping in shifts, are closed.  They have no other place to go. 
And they have been waiting outside, in a bitterly cold, drizzly rain.  Thank goodness the sun appeared and the sky was clear today.  The official report is that 60 people have died as a result of the weather, but I can’t help but think in actuality there must be many more.   The sight of crops frozen over in normally verdant fields has also been troubling:  I fear this may affect the coming year’s food supply. 
Fortunately, the Chinese are a fundamentally kind and resourceful people who will overcome adversity.  I’m sure there will be a way through this.  Local charities are brimming with donations of aid, and workers are volunteering to assist.  That glimmer of hope and kindness is a nice silver lining in the cloud of this adversity. 

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The Christmas Package



The Christmas Package

Sometime last week, we got a phone call from a person speaking Chinese.  I always tell them, "I can’t speak Chinese," and hand the phone to Song Ying, who then takes care of whatever it is they’re calling about. 
This particular phone call was regarding a package which was to be delivered by Fed Ex.  Another phone call to David, and I had learned that his boss was sending us a Christmas package. 
The phone call was from the Fed Ex office in Shenzhen, which is a neighboring city on the border with Hong Kong.  What Fed Ex wanted was a copy of the passport (something we also have to supply when we pick up mail from the post office, I always thought to verify our identity), and I supposed some kind of declaration that the goods were for personal use and not for resale.  I prepared the documents and attempted to fax them.  The fax number was busy all day, so the fax never went through.  The whole issue slipped my mind until that night, when I saw the documents still on the fax machine with the reports that it had not been delivered (in spite of our automatic redial feature). 
The next morning at 10:30 AM, there was a crisis.  The Fed Ex people had not received the documents, and they HAD to have them by 2:00 that day.  It turned out that what they wanted was for me to tell them what was in the box. 
Uhm, excuse me, but it’s a gift.  I have no idea what’s in the box.  Moreover, you are the ones with the box in your possession.  How am I supposed to figure out what’s in the box, when you have the box and you are in a different city?  Well, it’s abundantly clear, was the reply (as relayed by Song Ying).  You must call the person in the USA who sent the box, and ask them what’s in it.  Song Ying was rather insistent that I must call David’s boss immediately and ask him what’s in the box. 
I explained that it’s a gift and it would be very rude of us to ask them what’s in the box.  Moreover, I said, it’s now 10:00 P.M. in the USA.  Even if I were willing to call and ask what was in the box, it would be very rude of us to call so late at his home.  Those things don’t matter, I was told via Song Ying.  The only solution to the problem was that we must call him, find out what’s in the box, and tell them the contents before 2:00 P.M., this day.  I couldn’t imagine that this was an issue that couldn’t wait 24 hours to be resolved.  It wasn’t life and death, and I just wasn’t going to do it.  Song Ying got back on the phone. 
Some other conversation occurred, and we received another fax from the Fed Ex people.  This second fax from them contained more documentation.  In that documentation was the customs declaration that my husband’s boss had filled out when he shipped the box.  Right there on the very documents they already had, the contents were itemized and the value declared.  Shocked, I told Song Ying to tell them that they already had the information they were asking me to supply!  The response?  They didn’t know English and didn’t have anyone in the office who could translate it. 
At that point, even more shocked that there was nobody in the Shenzhen Fed Ex office that could read an English bill of lading, I called in the heavy artillery:  David’s translator at his office.  Even though she was quite busy, I faxed her all the documentation (including the passport page, the list of contents, and the Fed Ex phone numbers).  I asked her to call Fed Ex, figure out what they needed, and take care of it, which she did. 
The box arrived on Christmas day around 2:00 P.M.  It was in great shape.  The only evidence that it had been opened and inspected was that the gift basket had been wrapped in cellophane.  When it had been rewrapped, the cellophane hadn’t been closed where it had been cut.  Styrofoam pellets had gotten inside. 
The treats were really yummy — a real taste of home!  Very nice surprise!   David — poor thing — just got a book.  We girls, on the other hand, got some real goodies!  Clarissa exclaimed, "Daddy, I love your boss!"  Munchkin squeals, "Poppers!" and grabbed them.  Sarah gasped and grabbed the big candy canes. 
Candy Canes                                        Pop Rocks                                             Praline Pecans  

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Peace on Earth, Goodwill toward Men!
May spiritual blessings rain down and flood your cup to overflowing this joyous season! 

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