Xu Xiugui squeezed two hours out of her night-shift nursing on Christmas eve, only long enough for her to rush to the nearest church in downtown Beijing and have a look at the cross outside the church.
Usually fully occupied as a nurse attendant, the 56-year-old Christian could barely recall her last time praying in a church.
“But on such a special night as Christmas eve, there has to be a church for Christians like me,” Xu said. “It is exciting enough just to look at the cross.”
Surely, Xu did not come just for a glance at the cross, but thousands from across the city queueing outside the Gangwashi Church made her entry impossible.
So standing outside against biting wind, Xu prayed for concord in her family, good health for herself and her husband, and stable income for years to come so that she can help her son back in the home province of Anhui buy a new apartment, and then headed back to work.
Christmas eve was a sleepless night for many in Beijing, and maybe in other regions of the country as well.
Cinemas, restaurants, shopping malls and karaoke houses were crammed with people looking for low discounts and fun, and churches, on the other hand, with people, believers or not, praying for their families, lovers and themselves.
A construction worker, with Sanwa as his alias, travelled all the way from the outskirts of Beijing to the Gangwashi Church, wishing every one safety and happiness in the coming new year and himself a rise in wages. Currently, he is paid about eight yuan (about 1.27 U.S. dollars) for completing one square meter of ground sill.
“I will ask God to bless my boss so that he will not default my wages and I can go back home for the Lunar New Year,” said Sanwa, who left his hometown in central Henan Province for employment opportunities in Beijing several months ago.
Sanwa waited for hours before entering the church. By the time he finished the church services, the public transport would stop services, but he showed no worries. “God has guided me here, and he will certainly arrange for me.”
Wang Peng and Li Qian do not believe in God, but they believe praying brings good luck, of which this couple of lovers are now in dire need.
In their final year at college, they are now at a critical moment of seeking jobs that can keep both of them in a same city. If they fail, they will likely return respectively to their home provinces of Shandong and Hebei, leaving their relationship in peril.
“We plan to spend our first Christmas together in a church, hoping it will bear witness to our love and also bring us good opportunities,” they said while queueing outside the South Cathedral, the oldest Catholic Church in Beijing.
The South Cathedral had given out 2,000 tickets in advance for a Missa close to midnight, but the actual visitors far outnumbered the expected.