Friday, December 25, 2009

Shèngdàn kuàilè--Merry Christmas!

May the peace and blessings brought by a tiny baby so long ago be with you on Christmas Day and throughout the new year.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Crush of Creches.

Lucy's post about the nativity fair they visited in Seville reminded me of how much I love nativities. Granted I don't go for the whole city theme the way they do in Spain (and I don't have a little pooper in mine--yet) but even people that don't practice a faith are drawn to them. Except my neighbor, who is apparently a seriously lapsed Catholic with residual something, because he told his wife NO WAY was he going to have a nativity in the house so now I want to buy one and put it up outside his door. Baby Jesus can hold a sign that says "Please let me in for Christmas." Maybe that goes over better in the idea than in the execution, though. He's Cam's bio. teacher--wouldn't want to mess with the grade on finals week!

Anyway. Nativities. My mother has a very sweet old one (that I hope I get someday, not that I'm vulturizing her stuff before she's gone or anything, but I just want everyone--Greg and Sharon--to know how I feel) where the baby Jesus could be taken out of the manger. We used to replace him with a jelly bean or a Weeble and make my mother so mad. I bought this one once upon a time at Fred Meyer--$9.99--because it kind of reminded me of her figures. Doesn't that wise man on the left look a little bemused? When Cameron was little he rolled them all off the stable roof and I guess I didn't glue all their heads back on straight. We don't have the stable here with us so I think they always look a little lost and lonely somehow.

When I look at this, the miracle of Christmas is that this Mary gave birth to that Jesus. Look at the size of Him. That head!

I love this tiny Nativity that I got years ago at the Bibelot Shop in St. Paul. For several years I kept it out year round as a reminder of Christmas because it’s so tiny…Mary and Joseph are less than an inch tall. Even though it's so small, it's one of the first things I notice whenever I come into the room. I love the star on the stable, too--it reminds me more of a sun, actually, so I suppose there's some metaphor for it looking like both a star and a sun, but I don't know. I just love this little family.

Last year when we were in Thailand we went to a famous celadon shop where I wanted to buy a dessert set--small bowls, plates, and a tea/coffee set. Not that I get fancy on that kind of stuff, but they are so beautiful and I just knew that my wretched--I mean lovely--kids would be breaking them in a second so I didn't dare buy a whole set of dishes because they're sort of expensive, so I thought a dessert set would be just the thing. After choosing a design and scouring the store to come up with 8 of everything, I ended up short a cup and a plate. That was when the salesgirl, who had oh-so-helpfully trailed me all over the store, told me that oh, sorry, yes, they don't have all of that particular pattern. LIKE SHE COULD NOT HAVE SAID THAT while I was spending an hour looking for everything. And of course, they are the biggest celadon retailer in that region, so no ma'am, sorry, no way to get any more. Maybe I could come back next week. Did I mention how much fun the rest of my family was not having at this point?

So while I was fuming, I spied this gem…and forgot all about dessert. They are so lovely. The firing process for celadon leaves a fine cracked pattern. No faces or detailing—just a peaceful shade of green and a calmness that I feel when I look at them. I almost didn’t take them out because the cat loves to deliberately bat things off shelves, but they are sitting where he doesn’t go and I think they’re heavy enough that he might give up before he did any damage. I have the rest of the figures, but this is so sweet.

This adorable trio is from Tanzania. They were made by a group of women in Moshi who had lost their husbands and were working to earn money to support their families. I bought it the first time I visited in 2002, when I had no idea how devastating losing a husband could be in that country. Their shop was behind the cemetery which I found so sad. I love this little family, too.

This was my birthday present this year and I couldn’t be happier. I adore this Nativity beyond words. It’s carved from camphor wood so the scent is heavenly. And it’s oh-so-Chinese—the trees, the faces, the eyes. A shop near us has (he says, and I guess he could be right) the only Christian woodcarver in China. I loved these last year at our spring fair and fell in love again when they opened a shop up the street.

I love the detailing—look at his face! I don’t know who he is, though…I have 3 wise men, all bearing gifts and wearing crowns. I have 2 angels, so I guess there’s an extra one for the big announcements. I have 2 shepherds--they have the same hats, although one brought a gift, which was something new. And then I have this guy…he definitely does not look like a shepherd. But he’s definitely not a wise man. So…I guess we’ll have to work out a special job for him. Maybe he's the inn-keeper? This shop also sells the greatest Noah’s ark sets where the ark is a dragon boat. My favorite one is a large dragon boat and the pairs of animals are from the Chinese zodiac. That one is definitely coming home with me, too. Some day.

Sadly, for some reason I never purchased a nativity when we lived in Tanzania. They had some very nice ones and I regret not having one now, because I can’t understand why I didn’t get one! However, having seen my beautiful Chinese set, I’m thinking of asking him to carve one. I have so many pictures and an idea of Masaai warriors standing one leg holding their spears for the shepherds, a gentle-eyed cow with huge horns and the hump on his back, a traditional boma for the stable, maybe with a kraal around it, an acacia tree providing shade, the wise men carrying calabashes, perhaps a lion that would lie down with the lamb…It sounds strange, but I think I could have one made with more African flavor than the ones I saw in Tanzania. I also have 2 adorable rustic Santas that would be fantastic rendered with Chinese faces. Hmmm....

I’m hoping the Chinese nativities (they have smaller ones) will be available in the spring when it’s closer to thinking about heading home for the summer. I would gladly take orders—or trade for a Spanish one (hint hint)! Until then….

…or as my kids often say….

I know. This is payback for the “jellybean in the manger” trick.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Christmas is Coming...

According to Wikipedia there are around 41 million Christians in China. That's a lot...of course, there are 21 million people in just Beijing. And Beijing is not the biggest city. And a city of 7 million people is not considered large here. Christmas is definitely present around this time...but it's largely for the foreigners. Wealthy Chinese, especially those who have lived in Western countries may do a bit more present giving, but even the Chinese that work at our school, surrounded by talk and decorations and plans, don't pay much attention to it. Two quotes in a local magazine:

"I know that Christmas is orginally from Christianity. Some people call it "the second Valentine's Day." Young people here seem to go crazy for it. Lovers buy each other gifts and go to Western restaurants for romantic dinners; some go to bars to drink and dance till the small hours. I guess when it comes to Christmas Day they can experience as many Western things as they want."

"I don't know what Christmas is." The only thing I know about is that it's a Western festival. During Christmas the city looks different; there's a feeling of freshness. But I don't take my kids to the city just to look at pictures of Santa Claus. We'll only make a special effort to go and look at decorations when it comes to the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year)."

Interesting. In my apparently self-centered way, I knew that enormous chunks of the world don't celebrate Christmas. It's just interesting to know that I'm surrounded by people who don't know what it is, both from a faith and a cultural perspective.

I did find a Christian carver who makes Chinese nativities, though. One's going to look great in our house she thinks, humming "happy birthday to me" softly around her husband.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Mad for Mad Men

My latest show of interest is "Mad Men" so if you've got any inside information about what's coming, keep it to yourselves. It takes place in the late 1950's-very early 1960s (there's a reference for some of the guys getting on the bandwagon for Richard Nixon) and centers around an NYC ad agency. In the opening episodes the admen are trying to salvage their Lucky Strike account now that the government and the medical profession is cracking down on cigarette advertising.

Don Draper is, I guess, the moral center (?) of the show. Amidst the womanizing, drinking, and working, he's the mystery man--no one really knows how he comes up with the great ideas or what he's like away from the office. We'll see--Mr. Moral Center has a mistress and is not averse to "accidentally" kissing a client. Oops. He does look mighty fine in that suit, though. Wowza.

The men don't stand out as much as the women...look at those dresses. I love them. Keeping your figure would definitely be important in working those dresses and those shoes. I know TV is a more stylized version of the real world, but the treatment of the women, and their attitudes toward each other, is fascinating. When the new girl shows up for her first day of work, she's told by several men to shorten the skirt, raise the heels, and tighten the sweater. She learns which men to avoid, which to "play with" and which are the ones that are marriable. One wife is having "nervous problems" at a time when psychiatry is seen as a fad, like last year's candy-pink oven. After running her car into a fire hydrant she worries that someone could be killed, or worse. Worse being their daughter having a scar on her face. Which would be OK for their son, but not their daughter. The neighborhood divorcee is not allowed to have any contact with the husbands--and what makes her even more ostracized is her strange habit of going for walks to clear her head. The children play house, their conversations peppered with phrases like, "I like sleeping on the couch" and "I don't like your tone." Every. single. person. has a cigarette in one hand and a cocktail in the other. At work, in the afternoon--all the time. Men work and chase secretaries. Woman keep a neat house and raise quiet well-mannered children and don't ask questions. No wonder these were the parents the completely freaked when their children discovered the late 60's as teenagers. It's hard to imagine, growing up when I did, what women endured and the roles they played, how dependent so many of them were on men. Any woman who steps out of line is ostracized. For all the talk about "catching a husband" at work, when the new girl tries to get birth control pills, she's given a lecture about not being married and being "that kind of girl." Everyone talks about "that kind of girl" so somehow you're supposed to kind of be "that kind of girl" but just enough to land a husband, but not so much that anyone finds out or notices.

I can't say much for the interior design, though. For all of the lovely garden party florals and twinsets the women wore, the knotty pine and plaid wallpaper screams cheap cabin decor. And given the status of the characters on the show, I don't think it's supposed to be cheap. I can see how it's a short hop to autumn gold and avocado green. Will Pottery Barn decor be this dated in 30 years?

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Um...Can This be a Cultural Misunderstanding?

Photo from

This is a publicity still from Famous Cam's upcoming movie. After seeing this kid in person, I can attest to the strength and flexibility he'll be showing. He's not very big for his age, but he was very fit, as in the kind of fit that comes from a lot of time in the gym. It would take a lot of time and dedication to be able to do this!

This is a production T-shirt that Famous Cam received. It's obviously patterened after the photo, but something's been lost...or maybe the translation.

No, that can't be right. It can't be what I think it is...let's take a closer look, shall we?

Sweet fancy Moses, it is. not. anything...that looks like a hand. We've offered to pay him to wear the shirt to school and gauge public (or should I say pubic) opinion. hahahahahahahhaha.