Initially, I had this perfect little holiday-themed post all sketched out to run today. It would snappy, upbeat and fun. Everything Christmas should be, right?
But after I let it sit for a day and revisited it, I realized it didn’t hit the right note with me. The thing is, I wasn’t feeling snappy, upbeat or fun.
I didn’t like the idea of having to force a happy face out there when it wasn’t the truth. The heaviness in my heart that weighed upon me as I stared at the computer screen told me I just couldn’t run that post in good conscience – not when I’m still facing my own share of ups and downs over spending Christmas in China, a country that doesn’t officially celebrate it.
I live here in China because it’s my husband’s home country. We moved back here from America in November 2013 and plan to reside here permanently for the rest of our lives. Part of that means that, sometimes, I’ll spend Christmas in China too.
In theory, the holidays can be a lot of fun here in China. We’ve got our own Christmas tree decked out in shiny ornaments, sparkling colored lights, and golden ribbon. “Santa Claus” already has gifts ready to go for us. We’re planning a romantic Christmas Eve dinner at our favorite restaurant, followed by a nighttime stroll beside the West Lake to take in the stunning views of the gardens lit up in pink, blue and green lights. On Christmas Day, we’ll climb up to the top of a beautiful pagoda and enjoy some breathtaking views of the city. It’ll be a Christmas like no other – in theory.
But in practice, in anticipation, it doesn’t always feel as fun as you might expect. I can hardly find a hint of the Christmas season on the Chinese TV stations I have available and it’s tough to find more than a handful of Christmas movies. In my community, I don’t see folks making the same Christmas preparations I remember from back home – and I have a feeling that my Christmas tree is quite possibly the only one in the entire block. I can’t make Christmas cookies at home and the ones I tried finding online looked nothing like the batches of warm, cinnamon-scented joy that used to come out of your mother’s oven. I told my family not to send Christmas cards because it can take up to a month to receive the mail here and, anyhow, I’d get it late because an out-of-town relative receives our mail; but a part of me secretly mourns the fact that this might just be the first Christmas I won’t receive a single physical Christmas card from anyone.
That’s what it feels like for me on some days – the days when nostalgia for Christmases past gets the best of me.
Now, this isn’t the end of the world. I know that things could be far worse. I know this Christmas will come and I’ll be okay. In fact, in all likelihood it’ll turn out to be a nice Christmas. But that doesn’t mean that some days I won’t be a little down – like I have been recently.
It’s a relief to finally be honest about how I’m feeling – especially when it seems the online world would rather us all put on our best “holiday cheer” face. I was on Facebook the other day and confronted by a neverending stream of happy, confident, “we have perfect lives and never get depressed” kind of posts. It was really hard for me to read it at times. It was as if every ultra-positive post was saying to me, “This is the holiday season and if you’re not happy, there must be something wrong with you.”
But when I got off social media, meditated along with my favorite meditation song, and chatted with my husband about how I was feeling, I remembered that, in fact, there’s nothing wrong with me. That’s it’s all right to have those down days during the holidays – especially when you’re far from your family and friends in your home country. And that social media is often like smoke and mirrors, hiding away the darkest parts of our own lives.
My holiday wish to you is honesty – as in, being honest with yourself during this holiday season. No matter where you are in the world, perhaps you might find yourself facing another round of the holiday blues. Maybe you don’t even have the “I’m living abroad and missing family” excuse. Whatever the reason, know that it’s okay. Know that you’re not alone. A lot of us don’t speak up because it’s not cool or not the kind of thing everyone wants to hear. But we should.
I can’t predict exactly how I’ll feel on Christmas. I’d like to hope it will be a very merry Christmas. But I know that if it isn’t, I’ll give myself the permission to acknowledge that, to feel my feelings, and to remind myself that it’s part of being human. That life – even a Christmas spent abroad with your husband in China – will have its share of ups and downs.
Has spending the holidays abroad — or even, in a country that doesn’t celebrate your holiday — left you with a touch of blues sometimes?