3 Joys of Celebrating Christmas With Someone Who Didn’t Grow Up With It

Ask my husband John about Christmas and he lights up with wonder in his eyes. You’d think he spent his entire life anticipating that one magical day of the year, when everything seems possible.

But in fact, Christmas wasn’t even a part of his life until the two of us started dating years ago. People in China don’t traditionally observe the holiday.

Since then, we’ve enjoyed 12 Christmases together. And I have to say, there’s something joyful about celebrating it with a total newcomer to the holiday – a person who brings a fresh perspective on that silent night.

Here are three things I love about spending Christmas with someone who didn’t grow up with Christmas:

1. Playing Santa Claus all over again

My husband John loved how "Santa" brought him an inflatable globe for Christmas one year.
My husband John loved how “Santa” brought him an inflatable globe for Christmas one year.

When I was a kid, Santa Claus was the real deal. We used to sit on his lap in “Santaland” at the local mall and tell him what we wanted, write him letters asking how the reindeer were able to land on our roof, and leave out milk and cookies. It brought a sense of anticipation and magic to the holiday season – one that can easily slip away from you as you grow up into the “there’s no such thing as Santa Claus” reality of adulthood.

Or does it have to slip away? Not if you’re married to someone who loves the idea of Santa Claus – enough to will him into existence into your life all over again. As I’ve written before in my post titled My Husband and His Childlike Christmas Cheer:

The other day, I caught John pouring over his inflatable globe — and couldn’t help but remind him of its origins.

“Remember when ‘Santa Claus’ gave that to you last year?” I said with a wink.

He giggled in response. “‘Santa Claus’ really knows what I like.”

It’s the sort of thing you’d hear a parent ask their child — instead of a wife asking her husband. Yet, even though we both know who “Santa Claus” really is, any talk of the jolly old man never fails to bring a smile to his face.

I have to admit, it makes me smile to see John loving the idea of Santa Claus. He reminds me that you’re never too old to appreciate Santa.

2. Creating new and unique Christmas traditions together

My husband inspired me to hang all sorts of non-traditional -- but fun -- Chinese ornaments on our tree, including one of the mascots from the Beijing Olympics!
My husband inspired me to hang all sorts of non-traditional — but fun — Chinese ornaments on our tree, including one of the mascots from the Beijing Olympics!

In my Midwestern Catholic family back in America, it’s not traditional to have a Christmas stocking with Chinese characters on it. Or hang one of the mascots from the Beijing Olympics on your tree. Or even worship your ancestors on the holiday.

But since marrying my husband John, Christmas has taken on some decidedly Chinese characteristics – all because he never grew up with the typical traditions I did. (See my post titled How To Make It A Very Chinese Christmas.)

Sometimes, it’s just fun to be able to ignore the usual “Christmas rulebook” and create your own new and unique traditions for the holidays as a couple.

3. Discovering that Christmas doesn’t mean the same thing around the world

Christmas in China
For my husband, romance and Christmas go hand in hand.

Is this Christmas or Valentine’s Day? That’s something I’ve wondered after celebrating a few Christmases here in China with my husband. As I wrote before in my post China and Its Oh So Romantic Christmas:

Christmas is oh so romantic. At least, that’s what my Chinese husband thinks of the holiday — and I know he’s not alone.

I’ll never forget one Christmas Eve when I stepped out onto Huaihai Road, Shanghai’s equivalent of Fifth Avenue, and right into a sea of twentysomething and thirtysomething couples, strolling hand-in-hand under strings of soft white led Christmas lights up and down the street. There were so many young people in love all around me, I almost felt like I walked onto a set-in-China romantic holiday movie.

My husband gets all starry-eyed when I ask about what we’re going to do on Christmas. To him, the entire holiday is candy-coated with lots of love and romance, thanks to all of the romantic Hollywood and TV movies about Christmas that have come over to China.

Granted, the Christmas I grew up with was more about family than falling in love (or falling in love all over again). But on the other hand, there’s something lovely about having a husband who gets all excited about all the romantic things we might do together this year on Christmas – like sharing coffee and Christmas cookies for two at Starbucks, or holding hands as we stroll around the West Lake all bundled up in our winter best.


Have you celebrated Christmas with someone who didn’t grow up with Christmas? What joys have you experienced, thanks to their unique perspective on the holiday?

How to spend Christmas in China with your Chinese family

A Very Chinese Christmas Stocking

What do you do when no one else notices Christmas is coming? That’s what it’s like here in China’s countryside as I spend December with my husband’s family — a family that never had the tradition to celebrate this holiday.

Well, I say — if they can’t bring the holiday to you, you bring the holiday to them. So this year, I’m giving my Chinese family a taste of Christmas…with some inevitable Chinese characteristics.

1. Pull out the old Christmas tree. There’s nothing that says Christmas quite like a tree — and fortunately, they’re easy enough to find in larger cities in China. Back when I first lived in China, I bought a fake Christmas tree from a local supermarket and it followed me through the years…until I left, and it was left at my inlaws’ home. Well, turns out they stored it all these years and it’s still lovely enough to bring me some holiday cheer. I plan to decorate it with the supply of Chinese-style ornaments I’ve acquired over the years, and can’t wait to see it shining brightly on Christmas Eve.

2. Stream holiday music online. One of the best gifts anyone living in China can have is a fully functional Internet connection. Find your favorite online station and stream holiday music, if available (I’m impartial to Folk Alley’s holiday stream myself). And if you’re really ambitious, use it to teach your family a few favorite Christmas carols.

3. Serve your family a Christmas dinner. Isn’t eating half the pleasure of the holidays? And everyone has to eat — so your family in China surely won’t protest if you suggest doing dinner for Christmas or Christmas Eve.

Of course, I can’t make exactly the same dinner my mom or grandma used to make. Here in China, I have a toaster oven and a cupboard full of ingredients completely different from those I used in the US. But I can always improvise. For example, Chinese haw fruit makes a wonderful substitute for cranberries and they’re widely available in China during the winter. Instead of the chocolate cake I hoped to make (sorry, no cocoa powder in the supermarket), I’ll flavor it with the mandarin oranges that are so plentiful nearly everyone in the village gives me a few when I visit. Ham is a traditional Christmas roast not commonly found in China, but I can make something else from pork (my husband insists on ribs, who can blame him?).

But if, say, you can’t live without cranberries at the table, then head to one of China’s online stores. Yes, Virginia, you can buy dried cranberries in China…though it will cost much, much more.

4. Spread some generosity. The Christmas season is all about giving…so why not give a little something back to your family in the form of some gift? It doesn’t have to be expensive either, just something to show your generosity and love. I’m planning on setting up some “Christmas hats” (using the plethora of knitted hats around the house in place of Christmas stockings) and stuffing them with some candies from the local supermarket.

If you’re in China, how are you planning to celebrate Christmas? Or if you’ve spent Christmas in China, what did you do? Share your experiences or ideas in the comments!

How To Make It A Very Chinese Christmas

A Very Chinese Christmas Stocking
There are many ways you can make this a very Chinese Christmas, such as putting your name in Chinese (and English) on your Christmas stocking (like mine).

When you straddle two different cultures, sometimes, you wish your holidays did too. Holidays like Christmas.

I still love and embrace the traditions of my childhood, growing up in a Catholic home with a fresh-cut spruce trimmed with tinsel, and lights and an Angel. We hung our stockings, exchanged presents by the tree, hung wreaths, shared Christmas carols, baked Christmas cookies, and decorated our doors with pictures of Santa and the Reindeer and Elves.

But now, with my Chinese husband John, I’ve enjoyed creating a few new traditions and twists on the old, to make the holiday reflect the international, cross-cultural couple we are.

So how can you make this a very Chinese Christmas? Start with these five tips. Continue reading “How To Make It A Very Chinese Christmas”