I’ve studied in a lot of different places and lived in Asia for a long time, spending my Christmas in various places including Taipei, Tokyo, Beijing, Xian, Thailand and Hong Kong. The one I spent in Xian is really memorable and special.

I went to Xian to study Chinese in 1988. I made friends with a teacher at a university who was a Catholic. He grew up in Northern Shaanxi, in a small village, very remote and isolated. At that time, they didn’t have much opportunity to meet foreigners, so he was very excited to meet me. When he found I grew up in a Catholic family, he then invited me to visit his village for Christmas. I stayed at his village for one or two days, it was extremely cold, there was no heating. It was an incredible experience to stay in an old-fashioned village house in winter with a burning stove only.

They didn’t have lighting at night in the village, and I remember that when I first walked through the village from his house to the old church in darkness, I suddenly heard a band with instruments like trumpets and Chinese instruments playing Christmas songs together at the church. You could actually hear the music all over the village. We spent a lot of time at the church, but there were no chairs at the church at all. All the people just sat on the floor, except me, since they gave me a chair to sit on. We spent eight hours at the church over those two days. They did a lot of Christmas music, some of them came from the Christian hymns or music, some of them are the same kind of carols that I grew up with, I was astonished.

On the second day, we had another mass at the church. After it finished, I walked outside. I was the first foreigner they had seen in that village in 40 years, so everyone was really curious to see me throughout my visit. I remember walking out from the church, at least 100 kids were waiting for me. They asked me to sing a Christmas song from where I grew up, so I sang one of my favorite Christmas carols “Silent Night” all by myself in the frosty outdoors to the young villagers who listened quietly but broke into hearty applause when I finished. It was a really special Christmas!

(Source of photos: Wikimedia Commons)