If you took a survey of expats, I bet it would show that homesickness amplifies around the holidays. And I think it is especially tough in China.
Collectively, the Chinese do not celebrate Christmas, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah or any of the many holidays that happen around this time of year for Westerners. In fact, there is no evidence of these at all. It is just another time of the year for China. At home, from November to the end of December, we are bombarded by the holidays and all that they bring: advertising, music, store sales, movies and holiday wishes coming from every retailer. There is no possible way to forget that the holiday season has arrived.
But here, in one of China’s biggest cities, it is hard to even remember the holidays are upon us. If you are lucky, you can spot some Christmas lights or a Christmas tree here and there. But they are few and far between. And it’s understandable, because the Chinese don’t celebrate these holidays. But it is also frustrating because you want to feel the holiday spirit and cheer. And it is so easy to forget between the weather and the lack of cheer around! It’s a week till Christmas and I keep reminding myself it is coming and that I need to watch Christmas movies and listen to Christmas music.
This year, in Shenzhen there seems to be a few options of activities for Christmas. There are a bar crawls, holiday dinners and some holiday performances. There are definitely more options than there were last year. Last year, we ended up doing a 12 Pubs of Christmas Bar Crawl, which was great fun! We dressed up in costumes and had rules at each bar. But for me, the holidays don’t revolve around going out and drinking with friends. I do most of my celebrating at home, safe inside from the snowy Colorado winter. I bake with my brother, cook with my father, listen to music with my mother, and have gift exchanges with my friends. We drink, laugh, chat, reminisce and just enjoy time with each other. But in this crazy, fast-paced country, it’s hard to just take time to relax and enjoy the peace and quiet.
My mom called me yesterday and said to me that the holidays aren’t the same without me at home. I totally get it. My mom needs me around to go to Christmas markets with, wrap gifts with and bake with, especially when my father and brother aren’t as zealous about the holidays. But the more I think about it, the holidays aren’t the same for me either without my family around. They never will be. People around me keep saying that there will be more Christmases to celebrate. This doesn’t make me feel better. What does make me feel better is reminding myself that what I am doing is such a great experience and it is one that I will always treasure.
Living and working in China, backpacking around Asia, meeting people from all over the world, sampling Chinese food; all these elements of life abroad are amazing because they are so different from back home. Doing a 12 Pubs of Christmas Crawl won’t be something I do back home. Staying up all night in Hong Kong for Christmas and running across the border the next morning won’t ever happen again. These amazing, crazy China experiences are ones that I need to appreciate while I have them.
This is my second holiday season in China, away from home and familiarity. My advice is this. Let yourself feel the longing for home but don’t dwell on it. Try and bring some of the traditions you do at home to China. I have already downloaded all my favorite Christmas movies so I can watch them as if I were at home. My boyfriend and I have put up a Christmas tree with presents to open on Christmas morning. Remember that you are making new traditions and new memories and that the holidays are just that, days. They are special days, but those you spend them with make them special.
So, this year, if you are separated from your loved ones by living and teaching a world away, video chat as much as possible and try to do something for your holidays. Make it memorable, so you can look back many holidays from now and tell about how you pulled an all-nighter in Hong Kong or bought a 45 RMB Christmas tree. This is what brings me comfort around the holidays in China!
For ideas on places to visit in Shenzhen, check out our city overview article at: http://www.teachersforasia.com/spotlight-on-shenzhen/. For other cities in our “Spotlight on” series and articles on diverse topics such as travel, teaching tips and festivals in Asia, visit our website News section at: http://www.teachersforasia.com/category/news/.