Yesterday evening my family and I celebrated Christmas Eve by visiting a local Chinese church on invitation of a Chinese friend. The activities began with a skit by the youth group, portraying contemporary young people faced with dilemmas in living up to the Ten Commandments. Three of the kids, dressed up as figures from the Old Testament in kaftans, burnooses, and false beards for the two boys, offered comments on temptation and morality, while the others struggled with making the right decisions in common adolescent situations. This dialogue consisted entirely of American-accented English. Everyone in the audience seemed to enjoy the performance, even though it may have been incomprehensible for many of the older people.
The pastor delivered his homily on the Gospel Christmas story in Mandarin, pausing regularly for one of the ladies of the church to provide an impressive immediate translation into fluent English. A small choir singing traditional Christmas carols in Chinese followed this. I wondered if setting lyrics of a tonal language to Western music poses special challenges. The evening ended with the story of the Nativity, acted out, of course, by the small children of the church. This was the part everyone seemed to like best. For crowd-pleasing, you can’t go wrong with cute little children, especially when some of the people in the audience are their parents. This was also the most completely understood event, not only because everyone knows the story, but also because narrators rendered it in Mandarin, Cantonese and English. The adult organizers apparently ran out of sheep costumes and ox costumes are probably hard to find, so the animals in the stable included a little tiger and a little lion. I liked the idea that not only did a lion and a lamb kneel down together, but they even included a tiger in their fellowship.