Christmastime and Auld Lang Syne

Amidst the hustle, bustle, bright lights, festive decorations, cheery music, and gift buying frenzy, it's easy for me to forget that Christmas is a Christian, religious holiday not celebrated by all people across the globe. I have never been more acutely aware of this fact than I was this year as I celebrated my favorite holiday in China, a largely non-Christian nation.

The tree downtown & the messed up Santa that gets me every time
In the U.S, whether you celebrate the Judeo-Christian holidays or not, it's hard to escape them. Every public place is decorated in red and green or blue and silver, the radio turns to jingles, and lights are up on every street. It's magical and wonderful and all I wanted for Christmas this year. However, I knew I would be missing my traditional, family-oriented Christmas celebrations this year, a small price to pay for the opportunity to live in Asia for a year, or so I thought.

Here, I only got Christmas day off, and even that required some lobbying on the part of another foreign teacher. A few teachers at other schools were working on Christmas Eve (a Sunday!), and Jesus' birthday alike. In school, I always got 2-3 weeks off for "winter break" around Christmas. When I graduated and joined the workforce, I always saved my vacation days and took two weeks off to go home for Christmas. But here's a headline for sheltered, Christmas pansies like myself:

Christmas - just another day in China.

I miss Christmas in southern Alabama, I miss my family, I miss choirs singing, I miss lights and trees in windows, I miss going to church, I miss an entire country celebrating the same thing(s) for more than a month. I miss it all. Despite being miles on miles on miles away, my sisters and mom all sent me Christmas care packages of much desired, brand specific toiletries, beautiful cards, decorations (including a singing Christmas tree), and small gifts. In my life, Jesus is the reason for the season and family is the reason I'm grateful for it.

But, Christmas here wasn't bad in the least. My students, having had foreign teachers before, showered all the current foreigners with cards, gifts, apples, and smiles, shouting, "Merry Christmas!" the second I walked into the room from December 11 onward.

I went to a lovely holiday party in the mountains, ate great Hunan Chinese food, sang holiday songs in a private KTV (karaoke) area, and drank lots of sweet red wine on the 22nd; my new British friends and I rented a house over the weekend and shared a celebration of mutual longing for Christmases long, long ago on the 23rd; and I experienced the best massage I've yet to have in Zhangjiajie on Christmas Day, all the while drinking hot, black tea and eating strawberry flavored, chewy sweets.

Mix in a lot of Netflix Christmas movies, video chats with my sisters, and my iTunes "Christmastime" playlist blasting while exploring on Pottermore, and I would say I had myself a merry little Christmas.

I'm now turning my attention towards what my New Year's Eve/Day here will be like. In the States, it's a celebration that I've never really cared for/about and only tangentially celebrated as an extended part of the Christmas season. But now, in a place where it's not largely celebrated as a "thing," I'm missing all the hullabaloo and brouhaha that usually surrounds it.

I suppose I have Spring Festival/Chinese New Year to look forward to, but I'm planning on seeing some of the rest of Asia during that time, so I won't actually be in China for it. Go figure. However, the 35+ day break is greatly appreciated. Western traditions and holidays don't always overlap with China's lunar calendar system, but at least I have incredible university students, other foreign teachers, and my 'willing to ship heavy boxes to China' family to take the edge off my first holiday season abroad.

"And so I'm offering this simple phrase to kids from one to 92, although it's been said many times, many ways: Merry Christmas to you."