How does one celebrate Christmas, when you grow up in a Taoist country? How do you celebrate Christmas when you spend two years of your childhood in a Chrsitian country, where your parents tell you the story of Jesus through an old Dutch Bible, something you’ve never really come across? I thought Jesus was as magical as Santa until I went to Chrsitian school at age eleven.
When we moved back to Taiwan after a couple years in Holland, where Sintkerklaas was a bigger deal than Jesus, Christmas kind of disappeared. I say kind of because we still celebrated it at our missionary school as if it were the biggest day of the calendar year, but the only tradition was a half day of school on the Friday before the Christmas holiday, and a music concert featuring Christmas songs on the Thursday (I was lead soprano, bitch). And when we all came back after the holiday, some of our friends talked about their Euro trips and our missionary friends talked about the few gifts that they got. My sister and I got to pick a present, too, at the local department store where we usually picked a Barbie, or, later, shared our two birthday gifts and Christmas gifts to combined-ly get an Ipod mini, or something along those lines. My dad, in true Dutch tradition, bought a ceramic manger scene at Costco in the early years. It comes out every Christmas (at home), and my favourite Christmas trees were actually tree branches we decorated with the few very pretty baubles we’d brought back from Holland. Usually, the weekend around Christmas Day, my mum would cook a large meal. It always consisted of an amazing abelone (sp?) soup and various other delicious treats. And we would usually also have a Western meal around that day as well- often it would be steak with ‘Dutch mashed potato’ (seriously it’s the best ever, and contains two secret ingredients). It was never a serious affair, and that suited us fine. Because my parents ran the English school, we would always have a big tree and fake presents at the school, and we usually did a ‘party’ with the kids, that included some games and silly prizes. Everyone went home having ‘celebrated’ Christmas.
Fast forward to my gap year in Spain. I spent Christmas in Holland with my family, and that’s when I realised Christmas as the big family affair that it was. It was a day of eating, drinking, and playing board games. Everyone pitched in to make dinner and do the washing up as we went along. Dinner was usually three or four courses spanning a few good hours.
Then comes the UK of GB. Presents galore, everything, everywhere, all the time. Sale this, sale that. It’s actually mental, really, if you think about how people are shopping for it months in advance (disclaimer: I don’t pretend Holland, or even Spain, doesn’t do this also. But because I see this come in and out year after year in the UK, it’s more in my face, and feel the need to discuss it). It’s a holiday of excess and gluton, and no doubt jealousy as well. I try and avoid it as much as possible every year, buying presents onine where possible and buying them in November before the inevitable ‘Christmas rush’. Come end of November you have to be mindful of the ‘Christmas traffic’ into town at the weekend and the slightly dreaded Christmas guilt trips that require you to give money to charities and buy at least one or two extra Christmas puddings. *sorry Dobby is dying on TV in the other room, excuse me while I grieve a little*
I know it’s a big family time thing for the Brits, and I commend them for that. My ‘adopted’ family have day after day of family parties (I still have a raincheck to attend, actually, come to think of it). Everyone on my Facebook feed is going crazy with cheer and laughter, which is frankly relieving to see, as most of the other Christmas cheer I get is from crappy TV ads.
As an ‘expat’, this time of year automatically makes me miss home a bit. Everyone is talking about seeing family, meeting up with friends from yesteryear, and it reminds me that I can’t do that. I was always going to be an expat, wherever in the world I was, so it’s not even that I regret the choices I made as to where I live, or don’t have a ‘family’ of my own here. The heart always wants what it can’t have, and this time of year is a stark reminder of that. Usually I have an ‘end of year review’ where I remind myself and everyone on social media how grateful I am of my crazy life, but I don’t really feel in the mood for that this year. Too much is going on and my sister will be distracting me from that next week anyway, thank god!
So to all my friends everywhere in the world, the ones that saw me through everything, everywhere, I miss you. I wish I could have an MAK/KAS meet up at Mega (or, you know, whatever is cool nowadays), I wish we could all head to Plaza Cervantez for some tapas, I wish we could go down to Hyde Park pub for too many drinks, or that we could cross the street to Fat Cat’s after work for that permanent happy hour they seem to have… or, well, everything in between really. I hope you guys have all had a great Christmas with lots of cheer and, of course, a few cheeky days off work and study.