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A few people have been asking me of late “what’s this about you being a principal of a school in China?”, so I thought -by way of explanation – I’d post about it (with an embarrassing video we made at the time!!) Christmas is absolutely my favourite time of year, however, things were very different when I lived in China. The Chinese didn’t really do the ‘Christmas’ thing in the same way we do in Ireland, people talked about it but it wasn’t really an event until recently when, like many events, it was commercialisation into becoming popular! Haahaa (and yes, I was fully behind the push in our city because I could get into Christmas and still be in China!)
One of the first years that I couldn’t get home from China to Ireland for Christmas, we had just set up an English school in a city called Xiamen. Myself and Shannon had been offered jobs in the same city, the same week and both within a 1km area. So, of course we said YES! This was going to get us out of the tiny city (1 million people on 2 streets!) so we could finally hold hands without judgemental sidewards looks. We booked flights and off we went. It was amazing; Xiamen is fondly known as the garden of China and people didn’t look twice at us… but unfortunately the jobs we had been promised didn’t exist! NEITHER of them! We were heartbroken but we thought it was fate, so we bought a franchise to an English School (where I was supposed to work) and we started our own school!
The first Christmas, we had 100 students and I wanted to make it special. I bought a tree, set up the room and Father Christmas was giving out discount classes to students and their friends with a few gifts thrown in. The kids, the parents; EVERYONE loved it… and yes, I was SANTA! The next year I wanted it to be bigger… being Santa wasn’t enough, I had tasted the power of Santa and wanted more!!! Burger King had just opened and were hungry (pun intended) to take a bite out of the Xiamen market (I’m on a roll) so we talked about a collaboration. I had an inflatable grotto made and parked it outside for the day. All of our students were invited but this time we had 300 and all of their friends… it was crazy! I had to speak to 3 or 4 kids together to get through the long queues that had formed!
The second Christmas we thought we knew what would happen… it couldn’t be as popular as last year, could it? This time we planned to do 2 days but this time in the city book store, which was bigger. We printed 10,000 invitations and handed them out at parent teacher meetings with stickers. Our phones rang non-stop for 2 days running up to the event and our printers were under pressure…. It looked like we were going to be snowed under with kids (yeah I know… another pun!) 2000 kids got presents. Santa didn’t even get to pee!! After 2 days I needed a week off, but it was a great buzz. The kids loved it, the parents had a blast and I was the coolest foreigner in China! Our School doubled in size!
The last year I was in China for Christmas I decided to go all out (this was 5 years in). I was the Walmart Santa… in collaboration with our school! It was a week-long event, I had a purpose-built grotto, I was on stage, I did a supermarket sweep, it was unreal! (I genuinely think I may have missed my calling as a Santa-For-Hire!!) We were the hottest thing since sliced bread and because of the way the year ended we were a week before Christmas and I could finally go home for Christmas with my wife and celebrate together with everyone. We had over 1000 students in the school and I was ready to move on, we had achieved what we wanted. It was that Christmas we decided to sell the schools and start something new… a family!