Over the years, Christmas Eve dinner has always been a special tradition in my home. Apparently that’s also been the case for an American colleague at United International College where I teach. So Johnny Liu from Hawaii s invited a group of us to his apartment for a pot luck Christmas Eve dinner. Everyone brought a dish they prepared. Just like back home, this feast had plenty to eat. But a number of dishes were quite different than what you’d typically find at a Western New York holiday dinner table. There were all sorts of foods from countries where colleagues were either from or had worked in. So the choices included American, Thai, Indian, Korean, Middle Eastern, Indian and of course Chinese.

You may find this shocking, but to me the most welcome sights on the table were hamburgers. The staple of summer barbecues in America is far from it here. The meat that appears in supermarkets here is usually a pork based product that just doesn’t taste the same. Plus often they are sold in display cases that not refrigerated-a food safety nightmare! So real hamburgers truly are a real treat. Johnny also barbecued them…an added bonus.

This Christmas Eve celebration really had a holiday feeling to it that’s often hard to find since things are much different in China. Many of us wanted that ”warm and fuzzy” feeling to continue on Christmas day. So we decided to go to Macau the next day.

Macau was originally a Portuguese colony. Consequently there’s a great strong presence of Christianity which translates into Christmas celebrations . All over Macau, the quaint Portuguese style buildings are decorated for the season. The Chinese are quite fascinated with this since decorations this elaborate are not found in the mainland. So Senate Square becomes a sea of humanity with people taking pictures and staring in amazement at all the trimmings. Little kids enjoy dancing on the public square stage with an inflatable Santa and other holiday friends.

The nearby ruins of St. Paul Church are always a big draw for picture taking. Add some Christmas props to the scene and it becomes a major attraction for lensmen. If you look down from the ruins into the public square it’s almost frightening how people are jammed in here to be experience some of the season. That’s quite a contrast to mainland China where the religious side of Christmas is frowned upon and heavily regulated.

Another tradition continued during my visit here. A number of Chinese always want a picture with the gray haired American. One older Asian gentleman practically tore my arm out the socket with a hearty handshake while a family member took a picture of the two of us together. Then there was a shy “Asian princess’ who asked me in broken English for a photo op. Of course it would be bad manners for an American to turn down an attractive woman! If I charged a fee for all the times my picture has been taken during my year and a half in China, I think a good portion of my son’s college tuition would be paid by now.

Overall, it’s remarkable how a big deal is made out of the Christmas things that most of us take from granted. That would also include church. Here, Christianity is celebrated openly in the many churches Macau offers. For me to be able to attend Mass in Macau it requires a bus ride of about an hour. Then there’s a wait to cross the border that can take up to an hour as well. So again my message is treasure the freedoms you have in America.

If you celebrate Christmas, I hope it was a happy one for you.