Monday, December 26, 2011

Nanjing Noel

Far from friends and family, and still building our lives in Nanjing.  Jazz, Christmas Eve, returned home after his customary last-minute Santa shopping and said to me, sheepishly: “I just want the girls to feel abundance.”

“And joy,” I added.

Later that night we bickered about our morning plans for church.  Jazz was feeling unsettled about our options, which number three and deserve a blog entry dedicated solely to our family’s sojourns into a faith community in Nanjing. He also felt pulled towards his Director obligations: the Center was having a Christmas morning gift exchange smack in the middle of church services.  Though we went to bed lovingly connected around our late-night Santa tasks, I was uncertain whether or not Jazz would be accompanying us to worship.

He did, and what a beautiful Christmas morning it was.  As I held my eight year old daughter in my arms for her to see the amazing African choir leading us (at the inter-denominational Christian service), I heard her sweet voice raised in song: “Gloroorooooorria, in excelsis DeeeeeeOOOOOO!” 

The idea to walk along the city wall later that afternoon was Jazz’s, of course, inspired on our walk home from church.  I wasn’t sure about the logistics: there were presents still to open, a gratin to prepare, relatives to Skype. 

 We opened presents, Jazz and I marveling at how much joy our girls seemed to get this year from giving gifts purchased with their own meager allowance.  We left voice messages for family and friends. 

Spy kids
Making a list for thank you notes...

FF delights in Daddy's new t-shirt and rubix cube

Somewhere in all of this I noticed our sole nativity image, a gift from my sister, transported from Jordan to D.C. and now here: small and solitary in the window.  The Holy Family, I’m reminded, were once nomads too, during a short but significant period of their lives.

 I abandoned my dinner ambitions, threw tradition to the wind, and we walked, to the lake, our ultimate destination the top of the ancient city wall.

FF gave us the gift of suggesting that we not walk the wall, after all, and that instead, we go out on the water on a boat.  Jazz and I were ambivalent: won’t it be cold?  But creation and holiness move across water, do they not?

It was ZZ’s idea to read aloud the Christmas story from their new “backpack bibles”:  ZZ shared “The Birth of Jesus” and FF followed with “The Shepherds and Angels.”  

The sun on the water took my breath away. Gazing out across the lake I said, “Let’s note, December 25th, 2011, the day I started to LIKE Nanjing.”

ZZ gave me the gift of a very competitive game of tag to warm me up after our chilly return to shore.

We stopped at the base of a Buddhist temple for dinner at a vegetarian restaurant.   ZZ spotted a stray pup in the entrance in need of some Christmas love (“I can’t STAND it Momma, I know I haven’t had my rabies shot yet, but PLEASE PLEASE let me pet him.  I KNOW he’s friendly, I just KNOW it.”).  I was tentative; he looked scared and timid. But it was Christmas, and ZZ is very enrolling.  He trembled at her greeting, and bowed sweetly to her touch.

The restaurant was unheated, but we warmed our hands with cups of boiled water and our bellies with wholesome dishes and bowls of rice.

We never ascended the wall, but we walked the quiet streets home, FF’s warm mittened hand in mine; ZZ blazing a route ahead with Jazz.

Back in our apartment, Jazz baked us chocolate meringues, inspired by the story and recipe on his father’s recent blog (

We shared cocoa and a movie: Arthur’s Perfect Christmas.

Christmas Day, 2011 was a day of abundant joy for the Plum-Patents of Nanjing. 

Tired and happy, head on the pillow, I recalled words of faith from the Jesuit theologian, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: “Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.” And so it is.

Dear friends and family near and far, nomads and settlers, our fellow sojourners: wishing you abundant joy this Christmas and always.


  1. What a great Christmas tale. I love the combination of parent plans and kid audibles. And your attention to moments of grace, Plum. In some surprising ways, we also had a satisfying, joyful Christmas. Can't wait to see youse soon.

  2. Colette, Jason, FF & ZZ -
    We send all of our love and good wishes your way!
    Cammie, etal!

  3. Colette, This is such a moving and personal account of your Christmas Day. It left me with a warm feeling about your, Jason's and the girls' life in Nanjing. Today, Jerry and I will happily spend the evening with your in-laws here in LA, and we will think about you and your family. I told Dotty this morning that you NEED to write a book. Then she said you had about three books in you. I can't wait to read them... Merry Christmas to you all! Love, Robin, Jerry, Rachel and Natalie

  4. I wasn't sure why I was drawn to the gratin recipe in the Chron last week--never made one before--but now I know it was in connection with you--locally caught dungeoness crab and chard gratin. I should have known it was connected to you when at 8 a.m. Thursday morning the kids and I went to buy crab from the morning's catch and the market was closed for another 45 minutes. We needed breakfast so the obvious choice was Boogaloos, just a half block away. I always think of ya'll at "Boogz," and did so then as I slathered herb gravy on my biscuit. Your gratin never got made on Christmas in Nanjing, but your spirit graced every scrumptious bite of the gratin in San Fran. Your faith in God, trust in your family, and joy in the little things, like warm bowls, is spirit balm. xoxox

  5. Thank you for bringing me into your Nanjing world at Christmas. I felt the cold, heard the girls laughter and felt the warmth of your love for each other.
    Mary and Joseph must have been cold too but the Christ Child's appearance warmed the stable...and the world. Merry forth day of Christmas!
    Love Papa
    PS To quote Jazz'z shirt, you're all awesome!