In my experience, Christmas is not truly an event in China. Companies and shops will use it as a marketing tool, and you might find some ‘expat’ Christmas events or a few Christmas trees in shopping centres, but it feels very disconnected – like a dusty abandoned Halloween aisle in a discount supermarket. Commercialised, but not truly celebrated by people. And why would it be? China has its own traditions; it doesn’t need Christmas or our specific brand of holly-jolly festivities. However, as a rogue westerner living there for my first Christmas away from home, it did feel a little strange. No mince pies? Christmas was practically cancelled.
However, there were little pockets of Christmas that I made for myself: buying a handmade crochet Santa decoration from my regular breakfast spot, drinking a saucepan of homemade mulled wine with friends while singing Mariah Carey songs, making shoddy paper stars for my friend’s cheap plastic Christmas tree. Christmas is a feeling just as much as it is traditions, and the brilliant thing about traditions is that you can make them for yourself. If that fails, mulled wine is universal and can be made just about anywhere.
If you are spending Christmas at university, unable to return home, or you’re worried about a lonely year abroad Christmas, here’s my advice to you: hold on to the small traditions. Maybe you can’t have a proper Christmas tree, but you can make homemade decorations, listen to Christmas music, or wear Christmassy makeup. It could be watching a movie that you’ve watched every Christmas since you were little, or sending Christmas cards. There will be small things that you can still use to celebrate in your own way. Maybe it feels silly to cut out primary school paper snowflakes for decorations, but small things matter. My crochet Santa wasn’t the most elegant decoration, but it helped, nonetheless. Call your loved ones, give gifts, and know that if it isn’t a merry Christmas for you this year, in many countries Christmas is a day just like any other. A day that will come around next year, and the year after that.
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