I have experienced two Christmas seasons so far in the United States. We Chinese, call holidays festivals. The only Chinese festival comparable to Christmas is Spring Festival or Chinese New Year.
Today in China, we celebrate Spring Festival with our friends and families by watching lion dances, visiting relatives, giving red envelopes, and so on. It is the most important festival for Chinese. Almost at the same time of the year, another side of the Earth is doing the same thing — Western countries are celebrating Christmas to remember the birth of Jesus. People celebrate it by giving gifts to each other, decorating Christmas trees, and gathering with families and friends.
Being part of my host family, I want to prepare Christmas gifts for each of the family members. Most of my gifts were paintings which portrayed their unique interests and memories. For example, I painted a pink horse for my niece because she loves riding horses and pink is her favorite color; I painted an athlete running along a river bank at dawn for my brother because he is a great runner; I painted an old-fashioned lighthouse for my mama because she has such fabulous memories at Cape Hatteras. I asked the little ones’ parents what they would like. I felt so much excitement in my mind while preparing these for Christmas morning.
One night before Christmas last year, my host mom and I were sitting at a table wrapping gifts. "What do you guys give each other on Spring Festival?" she asked. "Red envelopes," I answered "Elderly relatives would give young people, like their grandchildren, money and they put money in red envelopes because Chinese people believe that it will bring you good luck. It is funny that my mom always let me put them under my pillow."
"That is very interesting, but it is not heartfelt," she said. "Why would people give each other money instead of presents? Presents are the best way that you can show your appreciation and love."
I was surprised by her reaction because I always adored this form of things when I was a little girl.
This year, I did the same thing before Christmas, asking kids what would they like for Christmas, ordering those presents, and wrapping them. However, when I was wrapping those gifts, I found I was actually happy and enjoyed doing that because I am putting my heart behind them. I want them to enjoy the gifts from me! Truly, my favorite Christmas memory is watching my nephews and nieces anticipate opening those gifts and yell out with joy. Their unexpected surprise and smiling faces have just warmed my heart deeply. I think I will never forget this American Christmas tradition.
As I truly experience Christmas, I now understand the meaning behind giving people Christmas gifts. Christmas is a special time of a year that reminds us that we have the most precious gift of all, which is Jesus Christ.
Chinese and American festivals are very different celebrations. However, both traditions are very similar in that they reflect the love from our families and loved ones. They remind us how blessed we are and that we should appreciate every single moment with a grateful heart.