Many of the English Language Schools in Hsinchu have decided to celebrate Christmas on the 24th of December, which falls on a Thursday this year. Other less accommodating institutions will even have their Foreign Teachers come in on Christmas Day, effectively ripping from this holiday whatever joy was left remaining after homesickness had dwindled the Christmas Spirit down to mere embers. Fortunately for me, Miro International Institute has decided to be gracious to its poor, lonely English Teachers and give us Christmas Day off, leaving us with a three-day weekend to sit alone in our small apartments in front of the Christmas Trees we don’t have, listening to “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” on repeat, weeping openly and drinking cheap wine straight from the bottle. I guess Miro doesn’t consider any of us suicide risks.
However, in order to make possible this extensive and well-deserved vacation of ONE DAY, we teachers will be required to pretend that Christmas actually falls on December 18th. This, as many of you may know, is a lie. This ignorance of our beloved Gregorian calendar also means that we are required to prepare everything needed for Christmas an entire week early. “You teach English to Kindergartners and Elementary students,” you say. “How much do you really need to prepare?” Ah, good-hearted reader; let me enlighten you on the proceedings:
* * *
‘Twas the week before Christmas and all through the school,
Children were screaming as chaos ensued.
* * *
“PLACES!” I yell once more, and my three and four year-old students look at me like I’ve just asked them to amputate their own toes using only our bright green safety scissors. “Teacher, we KNOWWWW” they groan almost in unison, and I curse myself for ever teaching them this useful yet incredibly annoying phrase. “I know you know!” I cry in artificially cheerful exasperation, “Just ONE more time, I promise”. They all stagger to their assigned X’s on the classroom floor, arms swinging deadly in front of them in an exaggerated manner as if sheer exhaustion had caused their appendages to go limp. Kids are awesome actors. I push play on the small CD player and the opening bars to “Away in a Manger” begin to play. The children sway haphazardly, failing to achieve the simple choreography that Teacher Yvonne and I have created. In seconds a chorus of child performers on the CD sweetly sings the opening words of the song, but is quickly drown out by the incoherent shrieking of my children who are not actually singing words, but only sounds that resemble words. Their faces contort in painful expressions as they force their voices into deafening registers. They forget all the choreography. Thirty seconds into the song Howie falls over for no reason at all, his oversized head bouncing off the floor with a “thud”. I look at Teacher Yvonne in desperation because today is Monday; we are nowhere NEAR ready for the Christmas Pageant on Friday, which will showcase our students’ talent (or lack thereof) for the other students, teachers, my principle, and most importantly, the tuition paying result-oriented parents.
The entire process of preparing for the Christmas Pageant does not sound nearly as difficult or time-consuming on paper as it actually is. About a month ago the Foreign Teachers were told that we needed to select a song for both our Kindergarten class and our Elementary class (or classes) to learn and perform. For me, that is ONE song each – two songs total. “Piece of cake” I thought, and began searching both the internet and my memory for songs that I thought my kids in each respective class would enjoy. Picking the song for elementary song came easily enough: First, there was much less pressure to impress with my elementary class, as the performance would be low-key and during school hours, thus only being witnessed by the other students, faculty, and a handful of stay-at-home moms with video cameras. Secondly, being 9-11 years old, my elementary students had a fairly good grasp on English and I therefore didn’t need to worry about choosing a “level-appropriate” song. I settled on “Jolly Old Saint Nicholas” which was upbeat enough to be difficult but not wordy enough to cause mumbling or frustration. I think this pick was met with as much approval as a ten year-old can muster when told that he has to memorize a song in a different language. (Remember learning “Silent Night” in German? I do. What’s the German word for “suckass”?).
Selecting a song for my Kindies was a little trickier: First, I had to make sure the song was easy enough that the children could, maybe, actually learn to say some of the words, as parents and administrators would certainly be listening with sharpened ears, judging my performance as a teacher based on my students' ability to articulate and pronunciate. Any repetition of phrasing was vital to this point. Furthermore, the song had to have words that lent themselves well to some movements or choreography. Lastly, and most importantly, the children had to look as cute as possible while performing the song, as the Pageant would be held in the evening thus allowing every known relative of every single child to be in attendance. It was, we were warned, a "Big Deal". Taking all these factors into account, and after much deliberation, I decided on “Away in a Manger” for its slowish tempo, its repetition of the phrase “Little Lord Jesus” and the eased at which I could come up with simple hand-gestures to illustrate lyrics like “asleep in the hay” and “no crying he makes”. At the time I was proud of my selection, and confident that I could make it into a hit. But in the coming weeks my self-assuredness began to wane, and it became apparent that I had made an awful mistake...