On December 25th, I celebrated Christmas without my family for the first time. I felt a little uncomfortable, and a little homesick. I’m teaching English on a smaller island off the small island of Kinmen in Taiwan. Never before had I been asked to work during the holidays, and I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to manage both my responsibilities to plan Christmas events for my students and to celebrate with my family.
Rather than decorating the Christmas tree and drinking eggnog at home, I was carefully honing my social juggling skills. I expected to work through a week of stressful Christmas plans and performances, while missing the opportunity to relax and appreciate the Christmas season. Thankfully, I was wrong. The week of December 25th was filled with Christmas cheer and storybook surprises. One of those surprises is below…
On Wednesday the 23rd, Jhuohuan Elementary School teachers and staff, while mostly non-Christian, gathered for our annual Christmas party. By chance, that day also happened to be the last day of alternate military service for one of our great assistants, Yu-Ming. In preparation for our party, I dressed up as Santa Claus, and as a surprise, our school also gifted Yuming a Santa outfit for his "retirement from service" celebration. After Yu- Ming reluctantly put on the overly large red pants, goofy red hat, and plastic belt, we were ready to celebrate. Not so fast! Instead, our fellow teachers and assistants demanded that we go to 7-11 and film ourselves. They figured it would be funny, and we felt the same!
Walking along the quiet evening roads of Small Kinmen, we encountered a few fellow teachers, and some hulking bulls grazing. Only after posing for pictures with those bulls, did we realize that wearing red was not the smartest decision. Suddenly, Donglin, the largest village on Small Kinmen, erupted with our principal's voice on the public loudspeaker. In between laughs she quickly exclaimed, "There are two Santa Clauses walking to 7-11! All kids and parents gather in the parking lot for candy!"
In a matter of milliseconds the streets were teeming with our students, their parents, and grandparents. Bike wheels screeched, cars stopped, and kids yelled! At 7-11, the building and parking lot were swamped! The crowd spilled into the store itself! With the help of a few teachers we purchased enough chocolate, lollipops, and sugar-coated goodies to hold the crowd at bay! Together, Yu-Ming and I took pictures with babies, students, adults….
Santa had come to Small Kinmen and the party had begun. More people arrived by the minute, and our candy supplies dwindled. We needed time to find more candy to toss to the crowd! Deliberating quickly, Yu-Ming and I decided to stall by singing Jingle Bells. Slowly the whole crowd began to sing with us. The air brimmed with magical Christmas music and the giddy happiness which captivates children when they are on the hunt for candy! When the last notes died out over the crowd, Yu-Ming and I resumed throwing candy into the outstretched hands of students. Our bags empty, it was time for Small Kinmen’s Santas to return to their workshop. Yu-Ming and I wished everyone a Merry Christmas and headed back to Jhuohuan to continue our Christmas celebration with colleagues.
My family always stresses the importance of “giving” on Christmas. We give our time to each other, we give gifts, and we give as volunteers. For us, Christmas was never about the gifts, but always about who could give the most. While celebrating Christmas on Small Kinmen, I was able to experience the pure joy that comes from giving. Although I was not able to celebrate Christmas with my family, I was able to help make Christmas come alive for many of my students and their families.
To have this teaching opportunity to give so much to others means more to me than any gift I have ever received. I am thankful for the opportunity to celebrate Christmas in Small Kinmen and I will always remember when I became Santa for a day.