First Person: Christmas in China

Rae Dear was adopted on Christmas in Chengdu, China by the Dear family. (Photo courtesy of Donna Dear)


Rae Dear was adopted on Christmas in Chengdu, China by the Dear family. (Photo courtesy of Donna Dear)

Hannah Dear



It was Christmas 2011. My family was sitting in a hotel room in Guangzhou, China. We had just opened the small presents that my parents had snuck out to buy. Room service was ordered and plans were made to go out to eat dinner at the restaurant with food that was almost American. I was laying on my parents’ bed singing Christmas songs with my family. However, there was something a little different about this moment with my family.

Families typically eat, give gifts, decorate the Christmas tree and do whatever other Christmas traditions their family has. This is the way I spent most of my Christmases. However, that Christmas five years ago will always stick out in my mind as the year where I crossed an ocean to meet my new little sister.

Six years ago my family decided to adopt. We had been blessed so much in our lives, and we wanted to share our many blessings with a child who was not so fortunate. My parents immediately decided that we wanted to adopt internationally instead of domestically. There were many countries we looked at, but eventually we decided to adopt a little girl from China.

That was where Rae came into the picture. Yang Rui was a six year old girl living in Zigong City, Sichuan Province, China. When we were sent a picture of this little girl, we knew that we just had to adopt her.

In December of 2011, we traveled to Beijing to officially adopt Rae. We had the opportunity to go sightseeing in Beijing for about a week with a couple of other families that were adopting through our same agency at the same time. We were able to see the Olympic facilities used in the 2008 Olympic Games and watched a Chinese acrobat show. My favorite experiences in Beijing were walking through the Forbidden City and attempting to climb the Great Wall of China. It was amazing to see a part of my little sister’s culture that had existed for thousands of years. The architecture of the Forbidden City was impeccable, and the Great Wall was so much longer and more difficult to climb than anyone could imagine.

After spending about a week in Beijing, it was time for my family to travel to Chengdu to meet my new little sister. Chengdu was so much different than Beijing. It was not exactly a tourist place which made my experience there so much more authentic. The day after we arrived, December 19, Rae entered our lives. She was brought to us by her nanny and orphanage owner. I loved her the minute I saw her.

She was so small and was wearing threadbare clothes. Despite her initial shyness, she was obviously a very happy little girl. She seemed excited to show us the photos of our family and our house that we had sent her. Taking her away from her nanny was rough. She cried for hours and hours. Thankfully, she eventually warmed up to us. Yang Rui became Rae Michelle Dear on December 20 when the adoption was finalized. Our lives have changed dramatically since that day.

Rae was unable to be in Beijing with us, so she still has never been exposed to so much of her Chinese culture. That was part of the reason why we were so excited to visit the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base in Chengdu. Many of China’s pandas are located at this research base. In one afternoon we were able to see more pandas than most people will ever see in their lifetime. Rae found her love for pandas at this research base and is still obsessed with them.

After we adopted Rae, we were not allowed to go back home because of the remaining medical tests and passport situations to handle. For this we traveled to Guangzhou. This city was my personal favorite because it was warm. At this point it was a few days away from Christmas and freezing back in Ohio. Being able to walk around the city, go to parks and shop in warm weather was wonderful.

We might have been away from home on Christmas, but my parents wanted the holiday to be special because it was our first Christmas with little Rae. They gave us all small presents on Christmas morning before we headed to church. Churches in China are sometimes complicated because of government regulations, but on Christmas there was a Chinese church that we were able to attend. It remains one of my favorite Christmas services I have ever been to. There were Chinese children reenacting the Christmas story in their own way. They also sang some of the American carols in English which was so sweet. Even though the sermon was difficult to listen to because there had to be a translator, it was so special being a part of such a unique service. We spent the rest of Christmas as a family. There were several large parks in Guangzhou. We chose to ride a paddle boat across one of the lakes in one of parks. This was very funny because all of the Chinese people around us were taking pictures of us randomly. Apparently, American tourists are rather popular in China.

Upon returning to America we did celebrate Christmas once again, but it was this Christmas in China that I will always remember. It was this Christmas that taught me that all of our traditions and parties may seem fun, but it is not these things that make Christmas what it is. Family is what matters on Christmas. It took adding an extra family member took help me realize this. Every Christmas since then I am reminded of this special Christmas five years ago where my family was able to disregard our own comfort and share our blessings with a child who had nothing.