Spending Christmas in China

This is my second Christmas away from home, and although I’ve done it before, it still kind of sucks. My job doesn’t allow enough time to fly home for the holidays, we are lucky to have a Christmas vacation at all because it’s not celebrated to the same extent in China. 10 days is a great opportunity to travel however, and last year we took the chance to travel in China. Tourist spots aren’t as busy because Chinese nationals are still working a regular schedule. Last Christmas morning my friend and I arrived in Harbin. Waking up after a 36 hour train ride from the South of China to the North I looked at my friend, realized what day it was and said, “Merry Christmas.” Stepping off the train, the cold air hit me and suddenly it was winter, and suddenly it felt like Christmas. It was 30 below, temperatures that living on the East Coast of Canada hadn’t even prepared me for, the temperature change was shocking after living in Guangdong, but it helped me feel the Christmas spirit.

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We spent some time in Harbin, then ventured to Beijing and finished our trip in Xi’an. It was truly a Chinese cultural experience, and Christmas took a backseat. We kept so busy that thoughts of sugarplums turned into thoughts of dumplings, and thought of Saint Nick turned into thoughts of Emperor Qin as we hiked the Great Wall in Beijing and admired the Terracotta Warriors in Xi’an.

On New Year’s Eve we were exhausted after a day of sightseeing and exploring in Xi’an, but we forced ourselves to stay awake, I had a drink, and we counted down the New Year quietly in our small hostel. It was the quietest New Year’s Eve party I had ever been to. China barely acknowledges the Western New Year, and instead holds out for the much larger Chinese New year in late January, early February.

I didn’t have much time to feel homesick last year, I called my family and wished everyone well, and sent photos of my trip as I always do. Of course I missed the usual traditions at home, but I was excited and distracted. This will be my second year away from home for Christmas, without the opportunity to fly home. Another ten day vacation has inspired a trip for two friends and me to travel to Sri Lanka. Again I hope to stay busy and avoid those homesick feelings. This is not my first Christmas away, but it still kind of sucks. I feel guilty about not seeing my family for nearly a year, feeling like I am neglecting them, somehow being selfish, mixed with the excitement of a new adventure.

Being away from home at this time of year is difficult especially when you’re reminded by social media of all the Christmas festivities you’re missing out on. It’s difficult to be away from family when the true meaning of this time of year is togetherness and family. But being abroad this time of year reminds me to cherish the true meaning of Christmas on December 25th and throughout the rest of the year (Santa would be proud), especially when I am with family. I live and work in China, I will be celebrating Christmas in Sri Lanka, and my heart will be in Nova Scotia.

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