My Christmas was a little different this year. It’s not my first Christmas away from home but it was was my first Christmas where it wasn’t really Christmas. Christians only compose up to 3% of China’s population so the majority of the country does not celebrate the 25th December. This meant that Christmas day was just like any other day, no holiday, no big dinner, no presents.
The last time I wasn’t at home for Christmas was when I was in Honduras but as it is a largely Christian country it was still celebrated. I was travelling at the time and all of my fellow volunteers spent the day together, exchanged gifts and had a big Christmas dinner. It was a lovely way to spend the festive period but I still got quite homesick. Considering we were on the beach in 30* heat we did our best but I think trying to replicate our holiday traditions and habits but not quite getting there meant that the difference was more noticeable.
However, the idea of Christmas just being another day here appealed to me. As horrified as some my friends have been at the idea of me being in class on Christmas – you’re welcome for that pub anecdote – I thought having something to distract me from missing out on everything going on would be a good thing.
I’ve been wanting to do a ‘Day in the Life’ blog for a while and I though Christmas Day would be an interesting one! It will let you all see what a normal day is like for me but also the little ways that I made Christmas special.
6am. Here we go. My first alarm goes off. I ignore it.
6.05. Second alarm. Also ignored.
6.10. Last alarm. Snooooooze.
6.34. Time to actually start the day. I spend 10 minutes doing a preliminary surf of all my notifications. Because of the 8 hour time difference, a lot goes on while I’m asleep. I text my mum to say ‘Merry Christmas’ while she is getting ready for bed. I also check the weather forecast so I can figure out how many layers I need to wear.
6.43. Finally I get out of bed, take a trip to the bathroom and start getting ready – get dressed, pack by bag, fill up my water bottle, pop some instant coffee granules into my flask.
7.00. Breakfast time. It’s not always as on the dot as this but anytime between 6.50 and 7.10. Usually I eat at the same time as my host sister but she unfortunately hasn’t been well this week. Today I had some fresh baked bread (a new appearance this week), some fried eggs, mushrooms and my favourite kind of mince.
7.28. Brush my teeth. I take a long time to eat breakfast so my last few minutes are always a bit of a rush to get out on time.
7.32. I leave the house, more or less on time. Time to see if I won the game of roulette that is getting dressed in the morning. Today I did. It wasn’t too cold today, 2* or 3*, but the weather was pretty disappointing, very overcast and grey.
7.44. Every morning I meet Joe, the other Edinburgh student, on a corner between out two apartments. He gave me an apple from his host mum (I later learnt from my mum that this is a tradition among Chinese Christians because her school has been studying China as a topic).
7.53. I arrive at class and one of my classmates gives me a lollipop as a wee present. I unpack the books I need for my first class, Listening, and go to fill up my coffee flask at the hot water machine upstairs.
7.57. When I come back another classmate gives me a pen and a lovely note wishing me a merry Christams. In the few minutes before the start of class I go over the words for the test we are about to have.
8.00. Time to get going. Most of the first half of the class is taken up by a revision test, as we have exams coming up in a few weeks. I also get a text during class from a Chinese friend I haven’t seen in a while, asking if I want to go to the cinema that afternoon with a group to see the new Star Wars film. I don’t have a great interest in Star Wars but welcomed the invite.
8.45. Five minute break. It’s not long so I just sit back, drink some coffee, have a little scroll on my phone. Because it’s Christmas, the teacher and some of my classmates wanted to take some class photos together.
8.50. Back to work. We work through another chapter in our textbook in the next half of class.
9.35. Now we have a break for half an hour. After sitting for so long it can be nice to stretch my legs so I head down to the corner shop nearby with Joe and another friend, Wilson, to get a wee walk and buy some mentos.
9.52. Back in class and its time to start looking over the words for the NEXT test in my comprehensive class.
10.05. Once more into the breach dear friends, once more.
10.50. Five minute break again, just enough time for a bathroom break.
11.30. Usually class finishes at 11.40 but our teacher let us out of class early so we could queue to get tickets for the international school’s New Years party which is on Friday.
11.37. We started to queue, waiting for the tickets to be released at 12. There were only about 200 for the whole school which is much bigger than that.
12.01. We should have started to get the tickets but there was some kind of delay…
12.26. Still queuing. The line is out the door now.
12.53. We’re on the move! Just kidding, we’re only moving to queue in a different place.
13.15. People are starting to get restless. It’s me, I’m people.
13.24. Finally got our tickets, only an hour and a half late. I was near the front so good luck to all those behind me. After getting out I started walking towards North Gate for lunch with Wilson and two Thai friends.
13.50. Lunch! This is a delicious spicy chicken dish with added mushrooms for me. Not a turkey but not a bad substitute.
2.24. After we finish eating I get the bus home. I usually walk home but I was running late for my cinema trip. Luckily the cinema is right next to where I live but I wanted time to drop my bag off first.
15.03. I had to wait a while for a bus to arrive but eventually get there. I have a bit of time so I sit down and connect to my VPN for the first time since the morning, as it had been a bit spotty.
15.15. I walk round the corner to the cinema.
15.30. The group I am going with are already there. It’s a nice mix of people, two Chinese friends, two Koreans, one Cambodian guy and and a Russian girl. I know most of them already but there are a few new faces. We are seeing Star Wars, and here I have to admit that I’ve only ever seen Episode IV so there was a lot I probably missed out on.
18.05. Even after going in pretty blind, I really enjoyed the film! The rest of the group wants to go and get sushi for dinner but I had already arranged to meet Joe for our own Christmas dinner of sorts.
18.25. I meet up with Joe and we start heading towards Pizza Hut, where we had decided to eat as a little treat to ourselves.
18.40. THIRTY MINUTE WAIT? No thank you, not even for Pizza Hut. I text my friend Hiba who lives around there to ask for another restaurant recommendation. She says she knows one that is ‘healthy but still really good!’
19.11. We decide to go to a bar for a few drinks as it’s still early and we feel like celebrating Christmas a bit more. I just so happened to know one nearby that has mulled wine, perfect for the Christmas spirit!
19.19. Just after we arrive, I get a Facetime from my dad and sisters who are at my Grandad’s for a bit. I take it outside away from the noise so it’s a brief chat because it was pretty cold but it’s lovely to speak to them.
20.24. I convince my friend Hiba to leave her studying for the evening and come have a drink with us.
21.45. We start to head home. It’s already past my China bedtime (9.30 most days) and I still have a few bits of homework for the next day that I have to look over and I also need to phone my mum.
22.15. Last call of duty, I Facetime my mum and speak to her, my gran and sisters. It’s lovely hearing about their day (so far at least) and is a nice way to end mine.
22.55. Bedtime. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.
Overall I would say I had a very enjoyable Christmas day. Obviously it was very different from what I would have been doing at home but I didn’t feel homesick which I had expected to. I think the fact that it really did just feel like another day helped but at the same time the fact that I did some things that aren’t everyday activities for me, like going to the cinema or out for some drinks, helped make it more special.
I am not a religious person. I never have been, no one in my family particularly is, yet we still celebrate Christmas along with most of the UK every year. It is something I have wondered about over the years, especially the first time that I spent it away from home. When Christmas primarily comes from a religious belief, one that I don’t hold, why do I celebrate it? I think it’s fair to say that Christmas has transcended being a purely religious celebration, in the UK at least, and is part of our cultural patchwork. It is about spending time with family and bringing the year to a close with family, friends and food. These things being the most important part of the celebrations for me, but also being the things lacking from my Christmas day this year, had me considering whether its even worth observing if I don’t get to spend it with my loved ones. I don’t have any plans to be away from home for Christmas in the next few years but it will be interesting to see what form next time takes (because I’m sure there will be a next time).