As with most people, my Christmas experiences have gone through several phrases over the course of my life. Being raised in a Christian home, I was taught the true meaning of Christmas from an early age, and while the importance of this day was always in the periphery of my thoughts, my primary goal was scoring the best loot possible. Bicycles, Legos, action figures...my childhood Christmases were as merry as could be. My family wasn't wealthy but there were always presents under the tree. When my family and I moved from New York City to Atlanta, Georgia, Christmas became an even bigger event, since I now lived within fifteen minutes of nearly all of my relatives. Christmas Eve with one side of the family, Christmas with the other. Presents and food galore.
After graduating from college, I took a teaching job in China, where I would end up spending the next nine Christmases. Being so far from home in a country that doesn't celebrate Christmas—other than making supermarket clerks wear Santa hats—the merriment, and the true meaning, of the holiday began to dim. It became a day to go out drinking with other expats. We were all desperate to cover up the loneliness we felt, being separated from our family and friends by entire oceans and continents. There were Christmas parties and gift exchanges, and my students would give me cards and small presents, but without the lights and Christmas trees and holiday music that permeates everyday life in the West during the Christmas season, it was hard to get into the spirit of the holiday. I would call my family and let them know I was okay, and it was always a little painful to imagine them all together in a big room, presents littering the floor, a honey baked ham in the oven.
During my latter years in China, I got married to a Chinese girl and our first two children were born. Now that I was a family man, I became determined to impart a sense of the Christmas spirit to my family. We would set up a little three-foot artificial tree in our living room, decorate it with ornaments and tinsel, and surround it with presents. On Christmas day, I would read from the Bible, since there were no churches in the area for us to attend. My oldest was the only one who could really enjoy the day, since our second child was only a baby for her first and only Chinese Christmas. Still, it was fun for our family, and it made me happy to introduce a special day that most Chinese families didn't celebrate.
In 2014, we moved back to the US just three weeks after Christmas. It would have been nice to arrive in time for the holiday but my wife's immigration visa came through too late for that. So we had nearly a full year in the US before our first American Christmas as a family. Our second child was old enough to enjoy it now as well. It was so wonderful to be back home, to bring my wife and kids into my family. My father had died while I was in China, and I was especially grateful to be back with my mother again, since my kids were her only grandchildren at the time. I could tell that it brought a lot of joy to her and helped with the emptiness of that day.
Now we are preparing to celebrate our third Christmas in the USA. We now have three children, so this will be our first Christmas as a family of five. Having my own family has made me appreciate this day on numerous levels that I couldn't comprehend before. Nothing compares to the joy of watching your children's faces light up when they see the decorated Christmas tree or get excited as the stockings with their names on them get hung by the fireplace. Christmas truly is a holiday for children and even though it is stressful and expensive, I love it. The entire month fills me with happiness, and this is what I want my kids to observe and absorb. Most importantly, I remind them of the real reason for this holiday, and how Jesus was the greatest gift of all. As their father, I am responsible for their spiritual upbringing and we diligently go to church and read our Bibles, because I know that one day, they will be on their own, and I don't want the seeds that I have planted to dry up."