I’ve always loved Christmas.
Two childhood memories stand out in my mind.
The first is about the colourful lights strung outside my window as a child. They were just bright enough for me to sneak in a couple extra chapters of my book before sleep. Being a child who sucks at sleeping also means having parents who enforce “sleep hygiene” (aka strict, strict bedtimes) with the zealousness of a determined drill sergeant, so the few weeks around Christmas were special to me as I huddled by my window squinting at words in the blue, yellow, green and red light.
The second is on Christmas day. In our family living room, the mountains of new possessions, paper, cloth (as an ecologically-minded family, we used home-made reusable cloth bags to wrap our presents to each other) and boxes around the Christmas tree were matched by the mountains of cookies, chocolates and candies on the shelves and coffee tables. After stuffing myself with treats from my stocking, I asked my mom if I could have a fancy German chocolate (my Omi in Germany was still alive at the time and spoiled us every year) from the treats serving tree. My parents were as strict with food as they were with bed times, so my delight was immeasurable when my mom gave me a warm hearted “yes”. From then on, whenever my primary school teachers asked us to draw our favorite thing about Christmas, you can be certain that I drew mountains of sweets.
There are some other good ones – waking up Christmas morning to a beautifully lit and garnished tree, curling up against the wall in my flannel nightgown opening presents, the year where I spend the few days after Christmas binging on the Harry Potter books we’d received (I think they were up to book 4 that year), the lovely dinners with my parents and brothers, digging my way through the snow to the swing set in the backyard to enjoy clear Christmas weather and listen to Christmas songs on my tape player…
My first Christmas away from home, I was kind of a mess. I spent Christmas Eve on Skype with a WoW guildie who was hiding from his overbearing family and in the morning, a really kind couple from my town (who’ve experienced a tragedy and thus prefer to be with others over Christmas) took me out to brunch. It wasn’t the magic of my childhood, but it was still a lovely way to spend the day. Perhaps one day, I’ll be able to pass the favour forward to someone else who’s spending her first Christmas away from home.
The second, my middle brother visited so that was nice. No one gets traditions like family. The year after that, I brought Ed home. My parents had sold the house I grew up in, though, and had built a new one so it just wasn’t the same. Then I was in Australia. I wasn’t sad, but it was a little weird to spend Christmas morning lounging by the pool and making sure the kids don’t drown. For Australians, Christmas is about summer vacation, grilling food and swimming so they must think it weird that to me, Christmas is a lights and winter solstice festival.
This year I’m in Taiwan. It’s winter here, but not the same kind of winter. Temperature kind of hangs around 15C, but the other day it was almost 30 out. It’s my second not-white Christmas. (Australia was my first.) Christmas is celebrated a little. Lots of businesses have lights and trees and there’s an entire street by Main Station that specializes in Christmas stuff during December. On Christmas Eve and Christmas day, you see people and families bugged down with bags, hurrying from shop to shop or from gathering to gathering. (Some guy wrote about how he thinks that English schools in Taiwan should have Christmas off. I read it, then laughed a little when I remembered that even in Canada, I didn’t get Christmas- or any other holiday- off work. My dad also worked almost every Christmas in Canada. It’s not like it’s a big deal to work over Christmas. I actually kinda liked it because the pace is slower, customers and coworkers are nicer and you have a reason to stirr up your routine.)
The weeks following up to Christmas were just as busy here as back home. I scrambled to write Christmas cards (I NEVER know what to say!), get presents bought and shipped (if applicable) and decorate. There’s been stuff going on (Christmas and not) almost every night and even though I don’t have a lot of commitments (8 hours of Chinese school a week should be manageable!), I treasure every moment I can spend on the couch with my phone or a book, wrapped up in a blanket.
I managed to find an Advent Calendar! (About 3USD at Ikea. Also saw it for about 5USD at a specialty supermarket.)
I didn’t make it back to the Holiday street to buy a cheap tree, but I did get some lights. So now our apartment looks like a cross between a Christmassy place and a college dorm common area.
On Christmas day itself, I filled stockings for Ed and his brother (who is also our roommate) using a pair of Ed’s socks. When they found out what I had planned, they snuck a pair of my socks to fill with treats. Only their family doesn’t have that tradition, so they weren’t sure what kind of gift goes into a stocking. They tried really hard, I loved it. We did a little gift exchange and opened the presents my parents sent us. I spent the rest of the day doing my Building a Better Response course (I’ve always been really interested in the topics of disaster relief and community development and this trip has only strengthened that. If I wasn’t so adamant about starting a family, I’d begin planning a career in the field.) That night, while I would have loved to just cozy up at home, I got together with a good number of expats for a potluck/fun present stealing game. The expat community here is both huge and friendly. They really stick together. I think that if you can’t be with your family over the holidays and you’re the kind of person who gets lonely, it’s much more cheerful to spend Christmas here in Taipei with the expats than alone with an empty tree back home.
And today was pretty glorious. I bought some plane tickets and finished my BBR course. Ed’s brother has some kind of all day/overnight event so we had the place to ourselves. I only left the house to buy a meal from 7-11, then came right back home. It’s not quite as satisfying as being housebound in winter, but I’ll take it.
Oh, and I’ve been drinking this:
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and all the best in the New Year to all of you out there! I shamefully admit that I forgot people might actually read this, which is why it didn’t even occur to me to add well wishes until afterward. I genuinely wish everyone a safe and fun holidays (along with a safe and fun all year round!) with friends and/or family and tons of cheer.