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A Xizhou Christmas Story

When The Linden Centre started planning for Christmas 2010, we had no idea the ride we would be in for. Now that preparations are underway for Xizhou’s Second Annual Western Chinese Multi-Ethnic Christmas Celebration (the name is a bit of a mouthful) it’s funny to look back and reflect on how this crazy tradition got started.

When Brian first expressed ideas about a Christmas celebration, his thoughts were simple. He thought it would be a good idea to invite a few villagers to The Linden Centre for some traditional Christmas activities like baking cookies, decorating the Christmas tree, and caroling—pretty basic.

Somehow the idea of a performance started to get attention. I personally love putting on performances, so when I heard the idea I ran with it, giving Brian the chance to sit back and relax while we came up with ideas for acts. Keep in mind The Centre only had two other English-speaking employees besides Brian and me at the time, so we were really reaching for the potential talents of our few American staff members. Anthony Paglino, our multitalented Travel Curator, put on an appearance as Santa Claus, and sang a Christmas carol solo. And our resident teacher, Martha Aurelius, taught local children how to sing ‘We wish you a Merry Christmas.’

Despite our limited cast of characters to help in the production, plans quickly began to snowball bigger and bigger. The local government heard about what we were doing and liked the idea. They wanted to add programming and switch to a bigger venue, and we expected as many as 100 people to show up. Frank He, our Chinese Deputy General Manager and I worked right up until the evening of December 24th to finish our lines as MCs, and Martha and I baked over 200 sugar cookies for the government officials… but the holiday still hadn’t thrown us our last curve ball.

It was clear the day of the performance that the local government had much larger plans than we realized. At a late afternoon dress rehearsal, which only served to fray my already frazzled nerves, they rolled out a red carpet onstage for the show, and brought in not one, but two Christmas trees.  After a chaotic rehearsal, we dashed back to the Centre, I orchestrated the final touches of the Christmas dinner (yes, we forgot to serve the cranberry sauce), got dressed and pretty, and rushed into a waiting van to get back to the stage.  When we got closer to the performance venue, the buzz was palpable, the streets were blocked off by the police and we had to talk our way beyond the blockade. By then we realized our estimates of a little over 100 people was off: more than 800 were in attendance. There was barely room for Frank and me to stand between acts!

Even though we were somewhat unprepared for the scope of the performance, it was still a lot of fun. Anthony was nearly knocked over by all the villagers trying to get close to Santa Claus, the cookies Martha and I spent so long baking were gone within seconds, and the enthusiasm of the Xizhou villagers for the show was overwhelming.

We worked hard and there was a lot of pressure to put on something special, but the idea that we’re crossing new boundaries and making history in a place that isn’t familiar with Christmas is really exciting. It was obvious the villagers were really touched, and we felt great too spreading the cultural traditions of Christmas that don’t just focus on commercial aspects of it.

This year we’re maybe a little better prepared, but just as excited to continue the Xizhou Christmas tradition, the first of its kind in China.

About Jeanee Linden

Jeanee Linden is also the co-founder of the Linden Centre, and along with her husband Brian and children, Shane and Bryce, now call Xizhou, Dali one of their homes. Originally from San Francisco, CA, she graduated with a double Major in Theater and Communications from Whitworth College before participating in the inaugural Whitworth-Nanjing exchange program. When she isn't busy working at the Linden Centre and spending time with her boys, Jeanee is usually creating delicious culinary treats.