"On Christmas Eve," my students told me, "you give apples to your loved ones to symbolize your prayers for their safety and well-being." The Chinese word for apple is ping guo; for the Chinese, it is reminiscent of the word ping an, which connotes peace and safety. Christmas Eve for many of the youth in China is also a major shopping day. Stores offer huge discounts and remain open through the night, attracting droves of people. I had the opportunity to witness this for myself at Christmas.
On the 24th of December, two of our (mine and the other foreign teachers) favorite students surprised us by showing up with about 15 of their friends to make us a dumpling dinner. Dinner preparations began around 4:30pm and I joined in the assembly-line-style production, peeling, chopping, rolling, filling, folding, and on and on . . . . One thousand dumplings, eight side-dishes and four hours later, we sat down to enjoy the fruit of our labor.
Later that evening, I went with a couple of students to a nearby mall to witness this phenomenon of all-night shopping on Christmas Eve. Except I was there on special assignment :)
A friend I met recently told me about how she shared the true essence of the season last Christmas and I thought I'd give it a try. The idea was simple: Stand in a public place holding up a sign that reads "Free Hugs" . . . then watch and see what happens. I decided to try out the experiment along with another teacher on my team. As the pictures and video below will show you, free hugs are welcome gifts wherever you are in the world!