When I was young, Christmas was a special time that started just after Thanksgiving. Indeed, in the month before Christmas there was much work. We made lists of presents for our parents, siblings, and friends. We went Christmas tree shopping and then spent an evening decorating the tree. Each decoration had a story. Each year I would make an angel or Christmas mouse for the tree and my mother had special lights. We practiced singing carols and made cookies, delighting in reindeer and elf shaped cookies. We watched the same classic movies (“Miracle on 42nd Street” and “It’s a Wonderful Life”) as well as the same TV specials (“Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” and “Frosty the Snowman.”) Several days before Christmas we went on vacation and if we were lucky and if it had snowed, we made snow people and snow angels, and then when we were cold and tired we had hot chocolate at a friend’s house. The night before Christmas we made a plate of refreshments for Santa Claus and even remembered to put out carrots for Rudolph. And then. On Christmas morning we woke up laughing to discover what presents Santa had left us and to feast and play all day. Even today, Christmas still sparkles in memory and I am happiest when I have a chance to go home and celebrate with family and friends.
Of course, the Christmas of my childhood and what traditionalists would call “the real Christmas” were two different animals. Although my family was Catholic and we went to church, nevertheless—at heart—ours was a secular Christmas. In contrast, for religious Catholics and Protestants, the importance of Christmas is the birth of Jesus. It is a highly symbolic birth; the savior comes at the coldest, darkest time of the year. God becomes flesh in order that he may be sacrificed to redeem the sins of human beings. The rest of the holiday—from sugarplums and angels to Christmas trees and wrapping paper—all of this misses the point: Mary and Joseph, the manager, the gifts of the Magi, and the Christmas star that shone above Bethlehem where Jesus was born. In other words, there is not only one way to celebrate Christmas. For secular westerners, Christmas is a holiday when families reunite and presents are shared. For religious westerners, Christmas confirms their faith. Importantly, both of these meanings are true even though they contradict each other; at Christmas we remember who we are.
So why celebrate Christmas at Dalang? In fact, even though Christmas is as important as Chinese New Year, Christmas in Shenzhen feels unimportant; Christmas is an excuse for lovers to buy each other presents, but it is not a festival, it is even less a time when Chinese people remember who they are.
This December at the P+V, we have chosen to celebrate Christmas by emphasizing two values shared by both secular and religious westerners: generosity and remembrance. On the one hand, Christmas is a time when we give gifts to each other. We have made generosity our December theme. The students have made Christmas gifts for their parents, and yes the children wired their boxes and connected the lights as well as designed Christmas cards. On the other hand, Christmas is a time when we remember who we are. At the P+V, we remember the educational work of the missionaries, whose faith made it possible for them to come to Langkou over one hundred years ago. We are also holding an exhibition of the children’s artwork to remind ourselves just how much we have learned this past half year: from Lora, we learned to use puppets to tell our stories; from Yong Ya we learned that music requires discipline and joy; from Liang Laoshi we learned about solar energy; from Marco we learned about visual literacy and seeing our neighbors, and from Wu Dan we learned simple design and electrical wiring. So, Christmas at Dalang is not the Christmas of my childhood, but it is a continuation of Christmas values—generosity to all and remembrance of where we came from.
We hope that each of you who reads this post will have an opportunity to stop by, join the celebration, and learn about the art sprouts program. We also hope that our way of celebrating Christmas, by emphasizing the continuity of values through history and despite cultural difference will inspire you to take a fresh look at the possibilities that arts education affords. Arts education is not an end, but rather a vehicle for exploring the shared values that make us human. Impressions of our preparations, below: