Fond memories of ‘What Christmas Means in America’

I loved Jim Jones’ His View on Dec. 23 in which he recalled his most memorable Christmas: in 1968 in South Viet Nam at an orphanage run by a church whose mission was to “encompass and embrace all world religions.” He and his artillery liaison unit gave and gave and experienced delight and joy.

My most memorable Christmas was in 1988 in an agricultural university in a small town in a deeply rural province in Communist China. I and my American colleague received and received and felt cared for and appreciated. Gifts included elaborate cards, special food (apples, walnuts, dates, jiaozi), a scarf, gloves, origami birds, 1989 calendar, wallet made from a 1988 calendar, two live fish and a tree. I was invited to homes for dinners, from simple to elaborate, and attended a stream of parties, both official and student-run. How could we give back? By attending. Joyfully. And dancing, eating and upon one occasion, entertaining.

I had agreed to address the English Club on “What Christmas Means in America” and recruited my colleague (David) and a visiting professor from Purdue (Jules) to come along. I expected at the most 25 probably nerdy students who didn’t have a party to go to. I bought candy, had 25 song sheets mimeographed, and practiced reciting ‘The Night Before Christmas.” On Dec. 23 we filed into an auditorium that was packed; students were sitting in the aisles and hanging out the windows.

Stunned, we started with “The Night Before Christmas.” We took turns dramatically reading the stanzas. Then we taught “Jingle Bells” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” At this serious point, I gave a five-minute version of the birth of Jesus. Now what to do? Jules had an epiphany and taught “Does Your Chewing Gum Lose its Flavor on the Bedpost Overnight.” This was completely understood and uproariously sung several times. Then I threw the candy over the students, and we yelled, “Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and to all a good night!”

Diana Armstrong


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