After a blog break, I’m back, and now with photos from December. It was a busy month and end of the semester. The highlights were hosting another excellent Christmas party and once again sharing my cookie baking tradition (see my post from the previous year). Then on Christmas Day a few other foreign teachers and I went out to a local restaurant that serves Thai food. I did have to teach on Christmas Day, but as we had already finished our final exams, I showed a movie.
The next semester starts in March. Between now and then is the Chinese New Year and a bit of traveling for me.
Ready for the Christmas party
Decorating my apartment
My little Xmas tree
I baked lots of cookies
Ginger bread didn’t turn out exactly as planned, but still very tasty.
One of the stressful things about living abroad is missing holidays and celebrations of the home country. It is a joy to engage and learn new things, but there’s often a longing to return to the familiar. Although I’m not surrounded by the holiday traditions from the USA, I can share them and make do with what’s around me now. Last month I shared Thanksgiving and this month soon will be Christmas.
During the week before Thanksgiving, I taught students in class about the holiday and participated in several events with students and friends to celebrate. We gathered with students to make dumplings, we had dinner with more students, and then I hosted other Peace Corps Volunteers for our own Thanksgiving meal featuring chicken, mac n cheese, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and more–including a pumpkin pie I made from scratch.
The evening of Thanksgiving when myself and a few other foreign teachers gathered around a table with students, we ate and chatted. Then we went around the table to say what we were thankful for. it was a moment of honesty. One student used the image of a train. People get on and off as passengers, sometimes just quickly passing through each other’s lives, but friends are in it together for the long journey. What an amazing reflection.
With a grateful heart I give thanks for life and friends.
My students are very clever. In our conversation classes, sometimes we talk about culture. When holidays come, it presents a great opportunity for a class discussion, whether it be about certain traditions and customs on a particular holiday or the reasons behind the day.
So, when Valentine’s Day was near, they were, of course, giggly and excited. Sometimes there is banter about boyfriends. (They are young women, mostly 18-22 years old, and their contact with friends outside the school is strictly limited, so I don’t blame them.)
As with other holidays, they wanted an explanation about why we celebrate Valentine’s Day. Perhaps they were expecting a romantic story, something about love or lovers exchanging gifts. How many Americans have asked this question on Valentine’s Day? I never did.
Within the US, it has become a commercial holiday, that is for sure. Buy this, buy that—flowers, candy, chocolate, diamonds—show her you love her through this product. To be fair, it’s not all about that, and it is good to show our love for one another. (Later, I would point to 1 John 4:7,8 and ask them about showing our love to one another as it is written in Scripture.). I explained that giving valentine cards, and exchanging candy and chocolate is common, and even celebrated in primary schools.
But the story about Valentine isn’t so romantic. Valentino was a real man, and he is honored as a Christian martyr. There was more than one person by the name Valentino, but to make it simple, I chose one story to share with my students. You can read Wikipedia’s explanation here.
I explained to my students the basic story (in a little more detail than this): 3rd century priest blesses the marriage of soldiers (who were forbidden to be married) and is killed for it. And of course also talked about what we do to celebrate love on February 14th (which really has little to do with the martyrdom of St. Valentine).
So, then a few days later there was a special night for a gift exchange among the students. Each of the 3 classes of students gave a performance. To my surprise, the 3rd year students did a role play about the life of St. Valentine. They had taken my account I had given in English, and re-wrote and expanded it in Bahasa Indonesia.